Where to Study MBA, The USA, Europe or Cyberspace?

Does it Really Matter?

The short answer is: (1) In a country with a culture and language other than your own; and (2) Yes.

When you decide it is time to return to school to earn your graduate degree in business, how do you decide where to go? Perhaps this is the first "case" on which you can test your powers of problem identification, analysis, identifying critical variables, synthesis, creation of alternatives and finally selecting among the alternatives.

Many of yesterday's stereotypes about the differences between European and USA graduate business education linger, but no longer apply. B-schools in Europe have proliferated over the past decades and the quality is vastly improved. So, why go to school in the USA? If the stereotypes of the past are no longer as relevant, then what is? If the experience, leadership and maturity of business education in the US in the past are no longer such critical variables, then what are?

Today, the decision revolves around your career aspirations, your personal learning style, and the type and range of personal and professional growth you seek.

GLOBAL: It really is a global economy. Every company, no matter how small, is impacted by how the world economy does business. Global is a mental model, an attitude, a way of looking at and thinking about the interdependencies of the world in which we live.

Multi-cultural and Diversity: The ability to understand, value and work effectively with those who are different from you will be critically important to your success. Go experience someplace other than where you are from - if you can afford it.

Ideally, go to a country that speaks a language other than your native language. If you really want to develop expertise in leading and managing organizations in global commerce you need to learn how to effectively work with people who are different from you in many, many ways. That is hard to do if you go to school in your own city, your own country, and even your own region. The experience of living, adapting, accommodating and adjusting to local ways is an extremely important part of becoming more effective working across borders and living and functioning in other cultures.

What to look for?

How do you make comparisons?

I suggest there are four factors to evaluate:

  • Student peer group with which you will be taking this educational journey
  • School culture and learning environment
  • Faculty (and curriculum)
  • City - location of the school.

Students: The peer group you will be living and working with is critical to the type of learning experience you will have. Your fellow students are as important to your learning as the faculty.

The classroom experience will be driven by the backgrounds of class members. That experience will be different if the class is composed of a group of mid 20 somethings with 2 - 4 years of experience mostly from the same country or region than for a group in their early 30s with 6 - 8 years of experience from countries around the world.

Compare student profiles of four schools: IMD, Harvard, Wharton, and Arthur D. Little School of Management. This does not imply that one model is intrinsically better than the other. Rather the different models are better at achieving different objectives. Select a model that meets your specific professional objectives.

  • ADL SOM IMD Wharton Harvard
  • USA/Canada 9% 8% 64% 67%
  • Europe 16% 57%
  • Latin America 30% 10%
  • Asia 37% 16%
  • Middle East/Africa 8% 4%
  • Australia/New Zealand 0% 2%
  • All Other 36% 33%

Average Age at entry 32 30 28 26

Size of entering class 55 80-90 789 900

Most full time MBA programmes utilize a cohort concept and study group teams. Teams are a critical part of the learning experience, an effective support group, and essential to a cross-cultural education. Let me contrast a study team at ADL SOM with those at other leading US schools. The learning experience will be quite different. An ADL SOM a team consists of six participants, from six different countries on four continents, each with (on average) 7-8 years of experience. More typically in a US school, the six-person study group will be four from the USA or Canada, yourself, and maybe one other person from outside the USA, typically with 2 - 4 years of experience. The difference in age between a 26 - 28 year old vs. a 30 - 32 year old may not be very much. However, the older group will likely have twice the amount of full time professional work experience of the younger group. The intellectual, social and academic conversations of these two very different groups will be drastically different.

SCHOOL CULTURE: The culture and methods of the school need to match your personality and learning habits/skills: cooperative/competitive, individual/team; theoretical/applied; large/small; lecture/case/other(telling vs. discovery); personal/impersonal. You need to understand yourself - how you learn best and what environment you most enjoy. There is no right or wrong; but there are differences. Talk with alumni and recruiters to get their impressions. Visit the school, attend classes and talk with current students and staff. Fight through the stereotypes to discover the underlying truths. This is important. School culture can make all the difference between an experience you will love and one that you endure.

FACULTY & CURRICULUM: Curriculum, course content, and faculty teaching and intellectual abilities are important to what and how much you learn. Where faculty was born, grew-up, went to school, and have worked will drive the curriculum and course content. To achieve a global learning experience, the faculty must have a globally diverse background and bring that background to the course content and teaching style. And, the faculty must be available to the students if you are to gain the maximum benefit. Seek out background on the faculty and, most importantly, ask alumni and current students about their experiences.

CITY: One or two years are a long time. Choose a school and a city in which you will enjoy living and learning. Select an environment you want to know more about, which will complement formal learning, and which help achieve your broader growth aspirations. You will learn a lot from the environment you select to live in, as you will from the school you choose to attend.

IN CLASS/ON-LINE: Not everyone can afford the time and money to relocate to another city, country or continent or to leave their job for a year or two. One alternative is cyberspace. More and more on-line web-based programs are being offered. Certain learning, not all, is best done face to face. Full time in class learning is still the best learning experience. However, if that just isn't a viable reality for you, then consider some of the on-line experiences. They can be quality experiences that provide you with an opportunity that would not otherwise exist. The quality is getting better every year, but is still very uneven - be careful. Don't expect the same outcomes you would receive from the more traditional experience.

SUMMARY: The good news is that there are lots of quality alternatives available to meet the varying needs of a diverse population. They exist on both sides of the pond. Push through the stereotypes and rankings to learn the facts that are important for you and your future. Think for yourself. Find the right program for YOU!



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