Business schools in the United States, like all colleges and universities, need students from other countries. They couldn’t pay the bills otherwise. Altogether, foreign students make up 5% of the 20 million college students in the U.S., according to a Washington Post report, adding more than $35 billion to the economy. At the top business schools, MBA programs are comprised of between 30% and 40% international students; at some mid-tier schools, the MBA candidate population is closer to half — or even over the 50% mark.
International students aren’t just a vital source of funds for B-schools — they also contribute greatly to a school’s diversity, bringing valuable cultural and country-specific experience not only to the classroom but to a school profile that appeals to top recruiters. Of course, some U.S. employers don’t want the trouble of guiding a new hire through the potentially arduous visa process, a concern that may be exacerbated by reports of the U.S. government mulling increased scrutiny of visa holders; or they worry that a homesick employee might not be fully committed to their new job. But multinational corporations with offices around the globe seek MBA talent with language skills and cultural dexterity (among many other traits), and international students have a leg up, in a sense, after they’ve gotten the seal of approval from two years of U.S. studies.
So which U.S. schools attract the most international MBA candidates, as a percentage and in total? According to figures from the 2017 business school rankings of U.S. News & World Report, among top-50 schools the highest percentage of full-time foreign students can be found at the University of California-Irvine Merage School of Business, where more than half — 53.2% — hail from outside the U.S. However, that’s only 92 students in total — far fewer than the top school by volume, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where an astounding 514 international students (30.1% of total full-time MBA candidates) enrolled last fall.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS BY THE NUMBERS
At 50.5%, only one other top-50 school, the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, cracked the 50% mark for international students. That equals just over 100 students — again, far fewer than some bigger programs boast. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, for example, has about 414 international students (34.9% of total full-time enrollment), while Columbia Business School has 372 (48%), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has 343 (38.3%), Harvard Business School has 331 (35%), MIT’s Sloan School of Management has 312 (38.6%), both Yale University School of Management (36.9%) and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (32%) have 256, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management has 230 (31.3%).
Of the top-50 schools, 26 have 100 or more foreign-born MBA candidates, and 36 have international student MBA populations that comprise at least 30% of the whole. On the other end of the scale, the lowest percentages can be found at a pair of public schools: the Hough Graduate School of Business at the University of Florida (14%) and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (16.1%).
U.S. News and the reporting schools don’t break down the international population within the full-time MBA programs, but they do break them down for all business programs, and even a brief study of those numbers reveals that Indian students are the biggest international majority at most schools. At some schools, the Indian population is explosive: 75% of all international students at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business, 69% at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, 62% at the College of Business of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. In only a pair of schools does China overtake its Asian rival: at Yale SOM (20% to 17%) and at Boston College’s Carroll School of Business (11% to 9%).
SOMETIMES A WIDE GULF IN PAY BETWEEN U.S., INTERNATIONAL GRADS
Then there’s the all-important question of pay. Among the top 50 schools, 30 see their U.S. graduates make an average salary that is more than their international graduates — often by negligible amounts, but sometimes, as in the case of MIT Sloan (more than $28,000), Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management (nearly $19,000), the University of Maryland Smith School of Business (nearly $19,000), or Washington University’s Olin School of Business (nearly $18,000), by considerable ones. In one remarkable case at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, U.S. grads make an average of $95,288, while international grads make more than $30,000 less — $64,750.
On the flip side, international graduates from 19 schools in the top 50 make more than their U.S. colleagues, ranging from the tiny advantage — just $99 at NYU Stern — to more than $20,000 at the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business ($95,917 to $75,636). Interestingly, though, U.S. grads dominate the pay wars at all the most elite schools: HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Columbia, Yale SOM, Duke Fuqua.
All of which begs the question: Flipping the script, what are the percentages and outcomes for so-called “international” students at schools outside the U.S.? Looking at Financial Times data for a few of the top European schools’ MBA programs (see chart below), we see that the vast majority of reported “international” students are not from the country where the schools are located: Few French attend INSEAD and HEC Paris, for example, few Spanish go to IE and IESE, and London Business School is 92% international, meaning that most of its students are not English. At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the percentage of non-Canadians is smaller, 66%.
But when it comes to salaries, converted to U.S. dollars, the Euro schools win the prize. INSEAD, LBS, IE, and IESE boast higher averages than all their most elite U.S. counterparts, and HEC Paris ($132,188) is behind only Stanford ($143,773) and Harvard ($135,216).
(See the following pages for international student breakdowns for the U.S. News and World Report top 50 schools.)