The Pros and Cons of European MBA Programs

Have you been considering an MBA program outside of the US? Are you tempted by IESE Business School’s location, INSEAD’s consistent global MBA rankings, or London Business School’s links to major employers? Maybe you’re interested in these programs, but you wonder how they compare to the best business schools in the US in terms of curriculum, prestige, and employment prospects? 

If you want to learn more about how the best full-time MBA programs in Europe stack up against the top business schools in the US, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, European MBA Expert Pascal Michels discusses the pros and cons of undertaking an MBA in Europe as opposed to the US.

Pascal Michels, M.B.A.
Sr. Consultant & Director, Menlo Coaching
Pascal Michels, M.B.A.
Sr. Consultant & Director, Menlo Coaching

Do Business Schools in Europe Offer the Same Quality of Education?

One of the most important factors to note when considering European universities for your MBA program is whether they will provide you with the same quality of education as the best business schools in the US. Are MBA programs in Europe just as academically rigorous as their US alternatives? 

According to Pascal, there is no tangible difference in the quality of education that the top business schools in the US provide and the quality of education that the top European business schools offer—no matter what certain critics will tell you. The American model has been the primary source of inspiration for European MBAs to a surprising degree: for example, IESE business school was founded with the help of Harvard University and takes on three case studies per day compared to HBS’ arduous two cases per day. 

Further, as they are positioned as permanent challengers to the stalwarts of the US programs, European business schools cannot afford to become complacent. There isn’t really a tangible way to measure this, but because they are interested in competing with US programs to a degree, EU programs are always on their toes, looking for new ways to improve, and willing to take risks that US schools are less likely to take.

One of the great strengths of the top MBA programs in Europe is how faithful they are to the American model. That is to say that by going to Europe to undertake an MBA, you won’t receive a fundamentally different degree and education. However, INSEAD’s one year MBA program has become the dominant MBA format in Europe, so if you’re looking for high quality business education in a shorter period of time, then maybe a European MBA program is the one for you.

In the Financial Times full-time MBA ranking, the quality of European programs is reflected by London Business School, INSEAD, and IESE Business School all regularly featuring in the top 10 programs alongside Harvard University, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Are European MBA Programs Equally Prestigious?

However, there is the issue of prestige. And this works in a number of ways.

For one thing, the MBA is not widely understood across Europe. Some people might say, for example, that they have an “MBA in marketing”, which is untrue; they have a specialized Master’s degree in marketing, not a Master’s degree in Business Administration with a marketing focus. 

If your goal is to work in Europe, doing a degree in Europe is a great first step, but because it isn’t widely recognizable, outside of formal MBA recruiting, the benefits of doing an MBA in Europe are smaller than in the US. Outside of the very top European programs, there will likely be little benefit compared to any other business-related Master’s degree.

The other side of this coin is that, if you want to work in Europe, having an American MBA degree will not hold as much weight as it would if you decided to work in the USA. Every well-respected American university will always come with prestige and brand recognition, but the Master’s degree in Business Administration itself is not typically recognized in the same way that it would be in the US.

If your goal is to work in the US once you’ve completed your MBA, there are several factors worth considering. The first is that US employers don’t tend to value a degree from the best European business schools as highly as they would a top US MBA program, even though the education they provide is just as good.  However, if you don’t have a groundbreaking resume or a stellar undergraduate degree, but you don’t want to be held back by the MBA rankings of the programs you’re likely to get into, pursuing an MBA abroad is one way of escaping MBA rankings.  No one is going to believe that you chose the #25 business school because it was a good cultural fit for you—they’ll assume you couldn’t get into a higher ranked business school. In Europe, you don’t have that problem, because the schools aren’t ranked within the US system, and they don’t really have any reputable European business school rankings system outside of the Financial Times.

For MBA candidates who hope to work in Asia following their MBA, it’s unlikely that even the best MBAs offered by European business schools will garner the same clout and brand recognition that the top US MBA programs will.

Of course, brand identity isn’t everything, and if it’s a global business career you’re looking to pursue, the international dimension that many of these schools offer is likely to set you apart from MBA graduates who have only worked and studied domestically.

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How Does Diversity Factor into European MBA Classes?

When it comes to classroom diversity, European business schools are unrivaled by their US competitors. Their comparative lack of a domestic market has led to European MBA programs seeking out and admitting students from all over the world and from various walks of life in a way that US MBA programs simply cannot. 

The tendency for European schools to admit a wonderful breadth of MBA students is not only a benefit to students who hope that pursuing further education will broaden their perspective alongside providing them with specialized knowledge—although, this is also a massive advantage for those students. It is also worth noting that diversity quotas are not as limiting to certain demographics in Europe as they can be in the US. 

European programs are less selective, because they don’t have the same domestic market as US business schools. For this reason, European schools may take a strategic interest in American students in order to expand their market and grow their footprint in the US, and you may end up receiving an equally comprehensive education as anyone in an M7 MBA program despite not having the same GMAT scores or employment history.

There are no clear dominant nationalities in any of the European programs. Consequently, because white American men in Finance don’t make up a massive portion of their applications, you could make the argument that your chances as a white American man would be stronger if you applied to a European business school as opposed to an American business school. Similarly, the acceptance rate for Asian candidates is notably higher in business schools in Europe compared to the US. This is a case of supply and demand, where the business school applicant pool isn’t as saturated in Europe as it is in the USA. 

How Do Recruitment Processes Differ Between European Business Schools and US Business Schools?

The biggest disadvantage of completing an MBA in Europe as a non-European or global MBA candidate is that you will not have the same direct access to US recruiters as US MBA students.

If you’re looking to be recruited by a major employer, you have every chance in Europe that you would have in the US, except that the job location is likely to be in Europe. However, if it’s a global business career you’re pursuing, maybe the post-MBA job location is not all that important to you.

London Business School, IESE Business School, and INSEAD all have a full recruiter portfolio and a history of placing MBA graduates in good positions within major companies, such as Amazon, Bain & Co., BCG, and McKinsey. Other schools, such as Cambridge Judge Business School and Oxford Saïd also have strong track records of setting up their graduates with employment in major, reputable companies. 

In a cultural and historical sense, Europe has a lot to offer, but European business schools, equally, can offer an interesting geographical connection with the business world.

The important thing to screen for in European programs is the recruitment process—not the employment report. Employment reports are useful to discern whether the MBA program you’re researching is well-respected within certain companies, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how MBA graduates were hired. 

Some may have had previous connections with those companies, others might have applied and trudged through a long and arduous recruitment process. If you’re looking into doing an MBA program for the employment prospects, you should factor in whether the program you’re interested in hosts on-campus recruitment events, if they’re a feeder school for the company you hope to work for, and whether the business school has a history of international hiring: you might get recruited by Morgan Stanley, but in New York or London? When it comes to consulting recruitment, which is very focused on local MBA applicants, it is important to understand whether a given firm, say BCG, hires on campus for all global offices, or just regionally or even locally.

Short internships are also less common in Europe, so if you’re hoping to use your MBA to transition between industries, you should brace yourself for a challenging internship search. Where, in the US, you might have no trouble finding a summer internship with a large corporate, a similar internship in Europe, unless specifically designed for MBA candidates, might come with a minimum contract of 6 months. That isn’t to say that summer internships are impossible to come by in Europe—they just aren’t as popular.

Ultimately, the only way to truly understand a school’s career services and recruitment processes is to speak with a current or a former student, get in touch with the career office, and ask directly whether the employer you’re interested in recruits on-campus or actively recruits from the business school off-campus. 

Are There Other Advantages to Studying Abroad?

Finally, another major point in favor of choosing a European business school is the rare opportunity it gives an MBA student to see Europe. It’s a very personal decision and not one everyone will be interested in, but when else will you get the chance to spend two years in a new city and a new country where multiple different cultures and foreign perspectives are widely available to you?

If you’re pursuing an MBA in order to broaden your horizons and develop a richer, more well-rounded perspective on the world, then relocating to a new country is a surefire way to achieve that.

In a cultural and historical sense, Europe has a lot to offer, but European business schools, equally, can offer an interesting geographical connection with the business world. London Business School is unique because of its seamless connection with London as a marketplace, and London’s status as a financial capital is undisputed.

INSEAD is the only business school in the world to have a truly balanced two campus structure—divided among Paris and Singapore. These campuses are genuinely equal in terms of their stature within the school, as opposed to Wharton’s supposed two campus structure, wherein the true epicenter of the Wharton School is in Pennsylvania and they have a sort of satellite campus in San Francisco.

On the other hand, many US programs, such as Kellogg School of ManagementUniversity of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business all offer MBA students the opportunity to study abroad for a portion of their MBA degree. Participating schools often allow students to study abroad for either the spring or the fall semester of their second year. This is a fantastic alternative to committing 100% of your time to a European MBA program, because you get the best of both worlds: you can both spend time in Europe and reap all the benefits of doing so without sacrificing your standing as an MBA candidate at a US business school.

Conclusion

Deciding to study abroad is a big commitment, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, there are a number of advantages to studying abroad while completing your MBA.

Beginning your business education in another country is an excellent way to kickstart an international business career, and it helps that the quality of that education will not be any less thorough or practical than the top universities in the United States.

If you’re concerned about your admissions prospects at the best business schools in the US, but you don’t want to be hindered later in your career by your business school’s ranking, then pursuing global business schools is a clever way to get into a more highly ranked business school even with an underwhelming student’s professional profile. European classroom diversity is unmatched at even the best programs in the US, and studying in Europe is a wonderful opportunity for young professionals to experience new cultures and meet new, interesting people.

However, if you hope to use your MBA degree to build a business career in the US or Asia, then pursuing your MBA in Europe will have its disadvantages.

You will not have the same access to US employers as your American counterparts, and even the top European MBAs do not amass the same respect and weight as the top ranked US universities.

It’s never a bad idea to apply for an MBA program that interest you, so why not give it a shot and make your decision when all of the offers are on the table?