Last update on July 24, 2019

Students from around the world move to Europe to pursue a business degree. What are the benefits of enrolling in an international MBA program? And which institutions offer the best programs in Europe?

Is it time to go back to school? One of the most common postgraduate degrees is the ubiquitous Master of Business Administration (MBA). Anyone graduating with a MBA degree certainly has the training necessary to help a business succeed, but do these skills translate to an increasingly globalized world? Enter a new concept: the international MBA program.

An international MBA allows students to gain the same knowledge and skills from a conventional MBA program in a diverse, multicultural setting. Often, international MBA programs emphasize learning abroad; for some students, this means an internship abroad, while for others it means the program rotates between cities. Regardless of how the program is organized, an international MBA program is an ideal way for budding young entrepreneurs to learn about the world and exposure to different approaches to leadership.

The advantages of an international MBA program

The growth in internationalized business degrees is exciting and offers a wide array of options, but it poses some big questions: what exactly does the word ‘international’ in ‘international MBA’ signify? How does a degree earned overseas differ from one earned at home? And how does an international MBA affect a student’s future career prospects and networking opportunities?

To start with the most obvious difference: the diversity of the student body. By this measure, many international MBA programs beat equivalent programs in the United States by a wide margin. On average, European schools reportedly boast a roughly 80% non-national ratio, while the ratio at their US-based counterparts is about 30%.

Some international MBA programs are particularly stringent about preventing the emergence of a dominant, globalized business culture. For example, Switzerland’s IMD Business School admits around 30 different nationalities into a 90-student program; that’s the opposite of cultivating a U.S.-centric academic program.

Preferred student backgrounds

Programs such as these aren’t open to everyone, of course; as a result of their focus, international MBA programs are quite competitive. Many top MBA programs outside of the United States prefer students with prior work experience abroad or the ability to speak at least two languages fluently before applying (this is the case at France’s INSEAD, for instance). This can mean that if you’ve never worked abroad and want to use business school to fill that resume gap, you’re out of luck.

Students in a computer lab (Photo: Alex Kotliarskyi / Unsplash)

By the same token, other programs, such as the Rotterdam School of Management, don’t mind monolingual students. The important element is that the students are passionate to learn about business from a global perspective.

High-quality faculties

Diversifying a faculty is another tricky measure to pin down. For instance, does the breadth of a faculty’s nationalities or where the faculty members earned degrees determine a school’s internationalization? It’s a tough call. Many schools are keen to point out the number of nationalities represented within their faculty. That said, many of the top professors and lecturers within the discipline received their doctoral degrees at a prominent university in the United States.

As a result, the curricula of many international MBA programs are often quite similar to programs in the United States; there, an international focus is not valued highly. Thankfully, most of the international MBA programs in European countries localize their curricula; that means adding minor tweaks such as intercultural training, language classes, or political science seminars. In doing your research, you’ll find that the curriculum at, say, the London Business School doesn’t differ greatly from its American equivalents.

Looking forward to your career

Most importantly, students need to be savvy about their career goals – both the industry and specific employer – before enrolling in an international MBA program abroad. Graduates tend to remain in the country that they studied in; that being said, you might not see this as a stain on your career trajectory. That said, anyone looking at working abroad at an exciting startup, a globalized firm, or even diving into the world of entrepreneurship will want to consider an international MBA program.

If you’re intent on studying abroad, these tips for ferreting out the right international MBA program may be helpful:

  • Check the university’s accreditations: The AACSB is a major global accreditation agency. In Europe, look for the European Foundation for Management Development’s Equis stamp of approval.
  • Visit the university, if you can: It may seem expensive to buy a plane ticket to a city far away, but choosing the wrong program is far costlier.
  • Talk to alumni: Most major international MBA programs have alumni clubs in large business centers worldwide. Programs for prospective students also may be scheduled near you.
  • Look at historical business school rankings: One year won’t tell you much; five years might. The Financial TimesQuacquarelli Symonds, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week (amongst others) regularly publish rankings for international MBA programs.
  • Study the school’s website: Many international MBA programs profile recent classes and where graduates are working. Find out if they’re in careers and locations that appeal to you.