The Appeal Of Getting Your MBA In The Far East

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Justin Chang lived in Alabama and California before attending high school in New Jersey and earning an economics degree at New York University. But when he decided to get an MBA, he never even considered a U.S. school.

“I think every generation has a gold rush, and now it’s China,” says Chang, 29, who worked at a hedge fund and an IT consulting firm after finishing his undergraduate work. “I wanted to be in Beijing, so I only looked at Peking University and the BiMBA program.”

Like Chang, a growing number of Westerners are recognizing that as China’s economy has risen, so has the appeal of its MBA programs. The 2012 Financial Times global list of the 100 best full-time MBA programs includes five Chinese business schools: CEIBS, Hong Kong UST Business School, CUHK Business School, University of Hong Kong, and Peking University Guanghua. In each case, classes are taught in English by professors proficient in the language in a 14-to-24-month MBA experience.


Earning a degree in China typically costs less than half of what it does at U.S. schools: Consider BiMBA’s tuition bill of about $30,000, next to Wharton’s $108,000. And many of these schools are anxious for top North American or European applicants and willing to dangle significant scholarship money in front of them.

Along with the typical MBA knowhow imparted in a good program, these students can acquire a network of Chinese nationals and perhaps even score an executive job in the Middle Kingdom after graduation. A winter 2012 survey from the London-based management and recruitment firm Antal found that, whereas only 49% of U.S. companies plan to hire in the next quarter, 71% of Chinese ones do. That difference is keenly felt by graduating MBAs in Asia. Last year at CEIBS alone, 450 companies posted more than 1,500 job openings for the school’s 184 graduates who each had seven to eight job opportunities on average.

Nonetheless, even the highest-rated Chinese B-schools lack the cachet of top-drawer U.S. names. “When I see Harvard or Wharton or Northwestern on a resume, it makes me sit up and take notice,” says Tara McKernan, a New York City-based executive vice president at the executive search firm DHR International. “And of course, Cambridge or Oxford or London School of Economics would, too. An MBA from BiMBA or CEIBS doesn’t have a lot of impact in the U.S. yet because it’s something of an unknown here.” A few other drawbacks to the Chinese MBA experience exist (we’ll get to those later), but Chang and the other Americans at CEIBS and BiMBA express unreserved confidence in their decisions to study in the Far East.


First and foremost, these transplants get the opportunity to cultivate long-term relationships with Chinese nationals who can serve as business contacts for the rest of their corporate or entrepreneurial lives. “I wanted to do an MBA in Asia to enhance my international perspective and contacts,” says Brian McMahon, 29, a Seattle native who graduated from the University of Southern California and worked in investment banking before starting his MBA at CEIBS. “There are [Western] students here who want a Chinese network but not necessarily to work in China.”

Garrett Twitchell, 30, a U.S. native who enrolled at BiMBA after graduating from Annapolis and working as a NATO policy adviser in Kabul, plans to stay in China. “One of the interesting things about doing an MBA in China is you get direct access to a demographic of Chinese people you wouldn’t otherwise,” he says. “The entire full-time class is about 50 people, so it’s quite intimate.” While relatively inexpensive for U.S. students, the tuition at Chinese business schools is a hefty sum for many natives, so the Chinese students tend to come from affluent families.

Working on projects with native Chinese equals a crash course in culture, Twitchell says. “You learn quickly as a foreigner how to phrase things because ‘face’ is so important over here. You have to know how to skirt around certain issues. Because of this, I’ve developed my leadership skills in a cross-cultural environment.”

  • Dan Jones

    Nice try, but no take. A big ole round ball of flawed premises.

    A) “With the backing of the State, these organizations become hierarchical
    and somewhat inefficient in the way you would expect most US gov’ts are
    run. Therefore, if these are the best companies that China is churning
    out, what are the Chinese b-schools really going to teach you except how
    to operate your business like an SOE?”
    -> 1) Top Chinese schools “teach” a curriculum heavy influenced by Western style analyses and methods. CEIBS (Chinese-EUROPEAN International Business School) is one of them. Therefore, you’re not just getting a Chinese education and in fact, you will have plenty of exposure to “best practices”. More on that momentarily…
    2) Who said that a b-school’s curriculum is based on the local business culture? It may teach you how to navigate the local business environment, but who is to say that it is only perpetuating the existing culture without any regard to innovation or improvement? Please keep in mind that China’s business culture, though rooted in millenia old tradition, will change mighty quickly in the coming years. Globally focused B-schools are at the vanguard of this development. That might be a reason why foreign folks are getting a China MBA these days.
    3) So what if everything is an SOE? And “best practices”? For whom? For the US? For Europe? My friend, the premise is flawed because the idea of best practices is a relative one, based only on the prevailing business culture. Our “best practices” are suitable for our culture, not China’s. That’s why we get MBA’s: in order to become more culturally attuned and in turn, to become more effective in cross-cultural management. Remember that China is already the #2 economy and will soon be #1. Whether we like their “best practices” or not is irrelevant. They’re not going to change so we might as well ADAPT to their business culture. “Adapt”, you know, the stuff that savvy businesspeople do when they try to get deals done in trying situations.

    B) If everything is based on “bureaucracy and hierarchy” then why are the children of China’s wealthy and powerful coming to America? Sure, status has something to do with it, but it’s also obvious that a US education complements their Chinese one. At the end of the day, education and credentials matter, as is clearly evident by your own post. Although”guanxi” is indeed significant, China’s strong educational tradition dictates that those who have received strong educations will find channels to power and success. Please remember that the Chinese invented the first national standardized tests over 2000 years ago. I would think they respect a quality education.

    Sorry for the post, but this is coming from someone who just received offers from MIT, CEIBS and Tuck. I’m going with MIT but your post just came off as a bit too arrogant.

  • Magneto

    As of today, no mainland Chinese schools can compete with regards to salaries. 

    As for career prospect, you might as well throw dice.  China’s b-schools are young and untested.  Most of China’s big players don’t have a business degree (many are engineers etc… from top schools).  China’s business society is heavily based on guanxi (personal relationships).  The real networks can be found at schools like Beida and Tsinghua.  Even then, the real powerhouses of Chinese society are enrolled in the non-English speaking programs. 

    You also have to remember who you’re competing against: fluent Mandarin-speaking Chinese nationals who studied at Tsinghua/Beida/Fudan/Zhejiang and then moved on to get their MBA at Harvard/Stanford/Wharton/Columbia and then coming back to Asia where they can utilize families ties (in a society where guanxi is paramount).  Of course that sort of competition isn’t standard fare, but it’s not rare either.  An MBA in Asia (other than INSEAD i guess) is, in my opinion, risky as hell.  It holds limited value abroad, and in China, though strong, isn’t exactly at the top of the food chain at the moment (Chinese returnee with a Harvard MBA will most likely trump someone from CEIBS). 

  • Dudeduder

    Article says “Far East” and then is very American in that it thinks of the region as China only… What about Japanese & Korean schools such as SNU or Korea U? What about INSEAD, which has both, a brand name and regional proximity in (South-) East Asia? 

  • RR

    According to CEIBS data for 2011 MBA grads, salaries range from $37,650 to $263,530 (converted into present-day U.S. dollars) with a mean of $94,580 and median of $81,850. Top three employers: financial services, industrial products, and IT/telecomm industries.–RR

  • Guest

    Yes.  Authentic food beats the hell out of Panda Express.

  • Wolverine

    Hmm.. I studied at a top 15 US school but China was the goal, so I focused and got a job working for a former SOE in a highly sensitive industry. I too, debated going to a US school versus a Chinese one. 

    I think something to consider here is that China isn’t exactly a free-market economy – China’s largest, most powerful companies are all SOE’s operating in certain key industries (banking, energy, telecom, etc) which enjoy full support of the party. With the backing of the State, these organizations become hierarchical and somewhat inefficient in the way you would expect most US gov’ts are run. Therefore, if these are the best companies that China is churning out, what are the Chinese b-schools really going to teach you except how to operate your business like an SOE? There are exceptions of course- but off-hand I can’t think of too many world-class Chinese companies that lead the world in best practices and innovation. Can you? 

    I don’t doubt that there are good profs at these bschools, I just wonder how effectively the stuff they’ve learned and taught overseas can be applied in China.

    Also, if you want to build a great Chinese network, just remember that good US schools tend to get exceptional Chinese applicants as well…

  • Guest

    poor article. is food and living quarters really the focus for MBAs in China/Asia?

  • Babyj18777

    I would imagine in the short term that the pay and career prospects of Chinese MBA programs are dimmer than those of their American counterparts.

    In the long term, who knows? You’ve probably got a better shot of making it big from a decent Eastern school than a decent Western one, all things considered.

  • Anon

    really? an image of a dragon? 

  • Dddbchool

    What type of jobs do they get coming out of school? How do the pay compare and career prospects compare — short & long term?