Why More MBA Applicants Are Choosing European Business Schools
For over a century now, MBA programs have been considered quintessentially American institutions. The first American Master of Business Administration program, was founded at Tuck Business School at Dartmouth in 1900, whereas Europe waited another 57 years for the creation of INSEAD. Even today, six of the The Financial Times top 10 business schools are American, as compared to only three European schools. Yet European schools have recently been giving American schools a run for their money--their actual money.
The increase in applicants to European schools isn't just coming from outside the United States, full of students who might otherwise have gone to an American school. MBA applicants across the United States are also increasingly looking towards Europe. The strongest data in favor of this trend comes from a 2010 Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) Geographic Trend Report for Europe.
Europe has become an increasingly attractive destination for prospective business school students from around the globe. The number of GMAT score reports received by programs in the top 10 European countries increased 96 percent between TY 2005 and TY 2009, outpacing a worldwide increase of 41 percent over the same period.
In addition, there is also a great deal of anecdotal data from individual institutions. Both IE Business School in Madrid and ESADE in Barcelona, for instance, reported an increase in applications for full-time MBA programs; and ESADE's applicant pool expanded by over 60 percent.
European MBAs are better equipped to handle the global recession.
Although it is not difficult to explain the general increase in MBA applicants over the past five years, answering the question of why applicants are choosing European programs is somewhat more complicated. Most chalk the former trend up to the economic climate, plain and simple. Many would-be job seekers are considering getting their MBA instead, on the theory that they will emerge more employable and in a more hospitable market in one to two years. Yet, while the physical number of GMAT scores sent to U.S. programs continues to rise, the percentage of GMAT scores sent to U.S. schools has gone down significantly.
Conveniently enough, the switch in favor of European schools is also a plausible symptom of the sickly economy. First of all, there is the question of job availability and contacts. European schools are better situated to weather this particular crash because they tend to cast a wider net, having established relationships with recruiters from a variety of industries. In contrast, most U.S. programs have historically focused primarily on finance and consulting, with over 40 percent of graduates entering the two industries, and therefore suffered a commensurate drop-off in recruiting over the past few years. Des Dearlove of The Times writes, "GMAC reports that the European job market for MBA graduates remains solid despite the challenging economy--three quarters of Europeans who earned a business degree in 2009 got a job within a few months of graduating."
The many benefits of a European MBA.
Then there is the simple fact that European business schools tend to be cheaper. For example, while an MBA at Wharton, the best business school in the United States according The Financial Times 2010 rankings, costs a little over $160,000 for the 20-month program, London Business School, the best program according to those same rankings, comes in at £49,900 (a little less than $77,000) for the full 15 to 21 months. Add to that the opportunity cost of spending an extra five months in school, and that's one heifer of a bill.
Of course, there are several reasons beyond economic constraints to apply to a European school. If you hope to eventually work in Europe, for instance, there are few better ways to signal that interest and create contacts than to attend an MBA program in Europe. As Mark Scott of Business Week puts it, "The continent's top MBA programs...routinely draw dozens of nationalities into their ranks. The global perspectives offered by these programs, along with their strong links to multinational employers, such as consultancy Accenture and banking giant Barclays, helped graduates land jobs." Or maybe you just want to go abroad now, and why not? The world is your oyster!
How to select and apply to a European MBA
If you do decide that you're interested in attending a European MBA program, there are a few things to be aware of. I've already mentioned the different time frames, price tags, and types of opportunities that will be available post-graduation. Something else you may want to keep on your radar is the fact that European MBA programs often have later application dates, meaning that you may well know whether you got into your top American school before you even have to decide whether or not to apply to a European one. A European school is also much more likely to have older students and students from outside of the country in which the school is located.
There is also more to be said about the structural differences between American and European business schools. Length-wise, a European program will tend towards one year, as compared to two for an American program. Of course, since the curriculum in both is actually very similar, you will have to work significantly harder in a one-year program. Also, since the typical path is to take your core courses in the first year and specialize in the second, you may well find that, in a shorter program, you end up taking fewer specialized courses than you might hope.
Last but not least, there is the question of how to pick a European MBA program. (If you want more convincing to choose a European MBA program in the first place, see esteemed Vault.com blogger Carolyn C. Wise's post on AdmitOne, Vault's MBA, Law School and College Blog.) Rankings seem a logical place to start, and on that note, here are the Top 10 European MBA programs, based on the Financial Times global rankings:
- London Business School (U.K.)
- INSEAD (France/Singapore)
- IE Business School (Spain)
- IESE Business School (Spain)
- IMD School of Management (Switzerland)
- University of Oxford, Said (U.K.)
- HEC Paris (France)
- ESADE Business School (Spain)
- University of Cambridge, Judge Business School (U.K)
- Lancaster University Management School (U.K.)
Historically, London Business School and INSEAD have been the front-runners. This year, both increased their class sizes significantly in order to accommodate the heightened demand for slots. INSEAD increased the incoming class size by 5 percent, from 937 to 980 students, and London Business School added 20 percent. Matt Symonds explains the shift towards these "safer" brands as a result of (surprise, surprise!) the tough economic times.
One of the consequences of the global economic downturn has been a growing conservatism among prospective MBA candidates. Concerned about getting the best return on the substantial investment of time, effort and money a program entails, many have taken what they see as the safe option and opted for one of the big-name brands in business education.
Because MBA applicants are so focused on the big names, he argues, a lot of fantastic programs go unnoticed. These programs--what he calls "hidden gems"--stand out because they specialize in one way or another. In a few different articles, like this on Accepted Almanac and blog posts, Matt Symonds identifies several schools of particular note and gives his readers an idea of the strengths that set these programs apart. Below, you can find his top picks, compiled (or scavenged, if you prefer) from the above articles. If you have a very specific idea of what you want out of your MBA, you may want to consider one of these schools.
- EM Lyon (France)--specializes in entrepreneurship
- Vlerick Leuven Gent (Belgium)--shows strong track record of helping students find jobs
- Warwick Business School (U.K.)--developed sophisticated virtual classroom for distance-learning
- ESADE Business School (Spain)--boasts flexible program in which students can study for 12, 15 or 18 months
- Nyenrode Business University (Netherlands)--values social awareness and sustainability
- Rotterdam School of Management (Netherlands)--features environmental, social and governance issues
- SDA Bocconi (Italy)--focuses on finance and luxury brand management
These schools thrive because they have set themselves apart from the competition. They therefore benefit from providing you with specific preparation even if their "brand" won't be as easily recognized.
In short, the trend in favor of European MBA programs is far from unwarranted. There are several excellent reasons to choose to attend a European business school. That said, you should not apply to European business schools with the assumption that nothing has been lost (or found) in translation. Any given European MBA program will offer a very different experience than an American counterpart. Not to mention that, as when choosing a program in the United States, you can't just apply willy-nilly: finding the specific programs that fit your needs is one of the most important parts of the process.