By Chioma Isiadinso
When you're looking at business schools and trying to decide where to apply, the incredible number of options can be overwhelming. There are thousands of MBA programs in the world, and even if you narrow your search to the top 10 or 15%, you're still looking at plenty of great schools in the US and Europe alone.
It's a lot to take in. But as with every other part of the b-school application process, the key is to take a breath and start thinking systematically about your needs, wants, and goals.
Here are the three most important factors to consider when deciding whether to pursue an MBA program at a business school in Europe or the US:
1. Length and cost
Business schools in Europe tend toward shorter programs, typically ranging from 10 to 18 months. While year-long programs do exist in the US, top MBA programs heavily favor the two-year format.
The difference in program length has a significant effect on cost and on the degree's return on investment. Shorter programs typically have a much lower price tag, and get students back into the workforce a year or so earlier than their two-year program counterparts.
This can mean a difference in total program cost of upwards of $50,000, in some cases over $100,000. The 12- to 15-month timeline is also increasingly attractive to MBA applicants who are hoping to jump back into the workforce without too much disruption to their network and earning time.
However, post-graduation salaries can also differ significantly between countries, so it's important to take the long view on where you want to work and what you want to do before making your decision. Business school is a significant investment, but while initial cost is important, it's not the only – or even the most important – thing to consider when choosing where you want to get your MBA.
2. Global exposure
Top business schools in the US frequently tout their commitment to diversity, and actively work to provide their students with global work and study opportunities. However, the sheer size of the country means that, practically speaking, international trips outside of North America are a significant undertaking.
Most top business schools in the US have a one-to-two-week global experience as a mandatory or highly recommended part of their MBA curriculum. Some schools have established international campuses or developed partnerships with business schools in other countries (like the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA program) to give their students the option of longer international study experiences.
For most European schools, international diversity is a given. Top MBA programs typically have upwards of 85% or 90% international students, compared to the 30 to 40% seen in American schools. The faculty tends to be similarly diverse, bringing with them a broader cross-cultural perspective to the topics they cover and their approaches to teaching the material.
The end result is that graduates from European MBA programs often have much more experience working in international teams, and dealing with cultural and language barriers as well. If you hope to work in Europe or Asia, you should strongly consider seeking a degree from a school in those regions – your connections and experiences will be much more closely aligned with what European and Asian employers are looking for.
3. Local environment
Looking at broad differences between regions can be helpful in order to give you an overall idea of where to focus your school search. But if you're looking for a career in a specific industry, you need to consider the reputation of the city and the specific schools you are looking into.
If you want to go into something broad – strategy, consulting, finance – region isn't as important. But if you want to get into a more specialized niche, like real estate or fashion, you need to go where the business is. So if you want to get into luxury brand management, you need to be in New York (Columbia, NYU Stern), Paris (HEC Paris) or Milan (SDA Bocconi or MIP Politecnico di Milano).
Similarly, if you're looking for a tech startup scene, look at schools like Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan, where there is a hub of innovation in the surrounding area.
When you're thinking about where to go to business school, you have to think big and think small. Understand the impact that the local environment will have on you, in terms of resources, exposure, networking, internship opportunities, and more. Once you've got a clear sense of what you want to get out of an MBA program, you'll know where you need to be.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.