Studying for an MBA in USA or Europe
Choosing where to study for an MBA – Europe or the USA?
The MBA, or Master’s in Business Administration, is a highly prestigious, sought after postgraduate qualification, which originated in America in 1908 at Harvard – but is now being taught in Europe’s leading business schools. MBA in USA and Europe are increasingly in demand.
Back in 2000, 80 per cent of the top 40 MBA programmes were found in the US; two decades later, this figure has dropped significantly to just above 40 per cent. Nevertheless, a careful scrutiny of the QS listings for MBA courses demonstrates that half of the top 100 are situated in the US. What is more, this demonstrates that academic excellence remains the trademark of American business schools, and other factors are responsible for the slow shift towards taking an MBA degree in Europe. These include cost and the length of the courses.
Why study for an MBA?
The MBA qualification opens the door to swift career progression, or a change in direction; supports entrepreneurship; offers rich networking opportunities; boosts salaries in both the short and the long-term; is essential for securing a high management position and is valued by employers all across the globe.
Companies such as Apple, J P Morgan, Bain and Co, Facebook and Citigroup all employ MBA graduates, and recent reports have found that over half of MBA graduates are offered high-level management roles on qualifying in the US. This not only reflects the desirability of having an MBA, but also demonstrates how top-ranking US business schools focus on helping their students find career-enhancing positions within major organisations.
In Europe, MBA graduates are equally highly valued and it has been estimated that an MBA salary uplift can be as high as 85 per cent, while a dozen European business schools declared post-MBA salary uplift well above 90%. The QS ROI Report of 2018 stated that the average salary uplift in the USA is 74 per cent. Therefore, the highest salary uplifts in Europe that year were reported by:
Although MBA courses are not cheap, their graduates can therefore earn a return on investment in an extremely short period of time: ESIC (15 months), Bath (16), Edinburgh (17) Strathclyde (17), Mannheim (19) and Durham (20 months).
How does an MBA differ from a Master’s degree?
The main difference is the work experience which is essential for applying to do an MBA. Most MBA applicants are around 27 years old, and have at least five years’ professional working experience, which allows them to focus on practical skills they wish to develop in the workplace. Graduates who go on to do a Master’s degree straight after gaining their first degree have no clear working benchmarks, since they have only been exposed to academic life and, internships apart, have tended to focus on theory rather than practice. Postgraduate students are, naturally, younger, and usually have a narrower focus than MBA students. European business schools expect applicants to have six years work experience, whereas in the USA, you can enrol on an MBA course with three years of work experience behind you.
How long is an MBA course, in Europe and the USA?
This varies widely from one business school to the next, but as a rule of thumb, you can get an MBA by studying full-time for one year in Europe, whereas MBA courses are traditionally two years long in the USA. The table below illustrates course length, in some of Europe’s leading business schools, and gives a rough indication of student numbers and the percentage of international students.
Length of MBA course
Average no of students
Percentage of international students
London Business School
Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
Imperial College Business School
Where will I get a more international education?
This is an important subject, since one of the main benefits of doing an MBA in USA or Europe is that it encourages you to build a professional network which will help you throughout your career. In an era of internationalism and ongoing globalisation, it is more essential than ever before to have the contacts and the support of your professional contemporaries, so that you can reach out to them, work together to share opportunities and overcome obstacles. Needless to say, studying full-time for an MBA will throw you together with like-minded, motivated and outstanding individuals who can, and will, help you make a success of your career.
Europe or the USA – where to study?
Europe is far, far more internationally-minded than the USA, because the geography of the continent facilitates mobility and cultural familiarity, distances between countries are generally short and the EU has encouraged individuals and companies to think and act in cross-border terms and, whether in education or commerce, to adopt an international mindset. MBA in USA is predominantly taken by domestic students, with international students accounting for a low 20-40 per cent of students overall. This means that not only will most of the contacts you make be American, but you will also not study in an international environment.
The job market for MBA students in Europe and the USA
A significant percentage of students who decide to take an MBA in the USA are motivated by the hope of finding extremely well paid work, settling and eventually being given permanent residence status. If you wish to settle in the US or Canada- where you can take an MBA at highly-rated universities such as Toronto, British Columbia or Alberta- once you have gained your MBA, you need to bear in mind that Canada is by far the better option, since you will be given a three-year work visa sponsored by the Canadian government on qualifying. In contrast, in the US you will have to find an employer who will sponsor you for the H-1B visa, which lasts for six years – and if you change jobs, then the whole visa process starts all over again. It is of course possible to find sponsors, but remember that the competition from domestic MBA students will be fierce. Recent findings indicate that there are more MBA graduates being produced in the US than the relatively small number of large American firms who traditionally headhunt MBA students can absorb, and that leads to the conclusion that Europe is a more promising job market. The table, below, illustrates the top countries for MBA salaries in 2019/20:
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Europe is, in conclusion, not only more internationally-focussed, but also offers greater employment possibilities and high salaries to match.
How much does it cost to study for an MBA in Europe and the USA?
It is clear that, for the most part, Europe is significantly cheaper than the US when it comes to studying for an MBA. Remember, too, that courses last for up to two years in the USA, and this means that you will not be earning for twice as long as is normally the case in Europe. While fees vary, as a general rule, top-ranking business schools in the US charge upwards of 30,000 euros a year as tuition fees. The list, below, looks at annual tuition fees for academic year 2020/2021 at a number of the leading business schools in the USA, and does not include living expenses etc.
- Harvard 66,885
- Stanford 43,700
- Yale 62,350
- UCLA 29,000
- University of Chicago 35,500
- Wharton (UPenn) 74,000
- NYU Stern 74,000
- MIT (Sloan) 74,000
You can also do an online MBA which costs from 500-78,000 euros, depending on the ranking of the university.
In Europe, the fees (in euros) for academic year 2020/21 were:
- Munich Business School 16,000
- Cologne Business School 11,700
- Technical University of Berlin 12,000
- BEBS Barcelona 5,850
- EU Business School (Spain) 34,000
- Swiss School of Business and Management 7,500
- Geneva Business School 24,000
- London Business School 37,200
- University of Oxford 68,000
Online MBAs, in Europe and the USA
Over the last year, the majority of university students have studied online because of the pandemic, and the trend for offering online courses has grown. It is possible to apply to do an online MBA, which takes from 18 months (for an accelerated programme) to four or five years to complete. Universities have not lowered their entry requirements if you study for an MBA online, and still expect you to have significant work experience, an excellent first degree and compete for places.
How about costs and requirements?
Costs vary from 4,000 – 21,000 euros in the UK and 10,000-80,000 in the USA. Online MBAs allow you to work at your own pace, not to sacrifice your mobility and find yourself chained to a single location, to continue earning a salary and to integrate your studies into your daily life. Above all, you will need a strong commitment to the programme, and to be well-organised and disciplined, since it is all too easy to procrastinate and make slow progress, and the lack of a classroom and fellow students, to spur you on, makes this type of education demanding and challenging. Independent learners are best suited to doing an online MBA. Nevertheless, one of the major benefits of studying for an MBA full-time is meeting and forming links with other professionals, and this is much more difficult if you meet through Zoom on a weekly or monthly basis.
Can I do a part-time MBA in Europe or the USA?
Yes. Part-time MBA courses allow you to continue earning while you are studying and you can qualify in 2-4 years. Note, however, that certain business schools do not accept part-time applicants.
What is an Executive MBA and can I study it in Europe and the USA?
Executive MBAs are designed for professionals who want to carry on working while they also study part-time. Mid-career professionals tend to choose the EMBA, because they are at a point where they cannot study full-time and meet their work commitments. Senior managers and corporate executives are typical candidates for the EMBA and the courses are flexible, practice-orientated and focus on applied learning , business coaching and leadership training. EMBAs are designed to help individuals improve their management approach and style. The average EMBA student has 10-20 years’ work experience and is aged 35 or over. EMBA students can therefore bring a great deal of real life experience to the classroom, and are capable of coping with these intense and high-level programs. Courses run from 18-24 months, and many classes are scheduled for Fridays or the weekend, to enable students to continue in their professional roles.
Not all business schools offer EMBAs. Harvard, for example, insists on full-time attendance, and does not offer part-time courses and thus EMBAs.
2020 rankings of EMBA courses included both European and US universities and business schools, with the following institutions being highly-rated:
- Hass School of Business, UCL – US
- Kellogg School of Management – US
- IE University/Brown University – Spain
- Yale School of Management – US
- Warwick University – UK
- University of Navarra – Spain
- IMD – Switzerland
- University of Oxford – UK
- University of Mannheim – Germany
Do entry requirements for the MBA differ between Europe and the USA?
Entry requirements are very similar and, although certain business schools are the exceptions to the rule, you will be expected to:
- pass the GMAT or the GRE (or an admissions exam) with a score of between 600 and 740, depending on the ranking of the institution to which you are applying for the MBA – Ivy League universities set the GMAT bar at around 729, for example, while the University of Cambridge requires 680.
- have a 2:1 bachelor’s degree from a good university (in Europe), or to have completed a four year accredited degree course or a European degree (in the USA).
- provide proof of English language proficiency, with most business schools asking for a TOEFL score of 550 upwards, or IELTS 6-6.5/Cambridge Advanced 142-210.
- submit two professional references and proof that you have been employed for between two and six years, depending on where you are applying. The USA accepts shorter periods of work experience than Europe, where MBA applicants are expected to have worked for five years.
Which are the most popular specialised MBAs?
Specialised MBAs are MBA courses which have a specialisation attached – for example finance, HR management, international business etc – and are designed to meet the needs of a particular area of an organisation, or an specific industry. As a result, you will gain an in-depth education in one field and targeted management experience, and thus this option is particularly useful for people who already know within which profession they wish to build their careers.
According to the Princeton Review, these are currently the most popular specialised MBAs:
- General management
- international Management
- Finance leadership
- Operational Management
- IT management.
What does an MBA curriculum cover?
Curricula differ from course to course and institution to institution, but generally speaking, MBAs focus on skills such as leadership and people management, marketing, collecting and interpreting industry data, teamwork, business trends and collaboration.
How do I choose between studying an MBA in Europe and the USA?
When deciding to enrol for an MBA in USA or Europe, you need to consider basic differences: the length of the course, tuition fees, job opportunities, visas, and your personal long-term plans. What is beyond dispute is the excellence of the leading global business schools, both in Europe and the USA, and the fact that you will reap immense benefits from investing in your future and gaining this highly valued qualification.