Americans In Europe: What It’s Like To Get An MBA Abroad

Student in Barcelona Airpirt

If the MBA is about anything, it is about broadening your horizons. Yet most Americans stay in their home country for their MBA. They could be missing a trick. Europe is crammed with quality schools that offer top-class MBAs. Here are three great reasons that more Americans should consider hopping the pond.

1) European schools are generally far more internationally diverse

At Harvard Business School, just 35% of MBAs are non-American; the figure at Stanford University Graduate School of Business is 41%, and at Wharton, 50%. Compare that to 91% at both London Business School and Madrid’s IE Business School — typical for the continent. At IESE Business School, in Barcelona, 85% of the MBAs are from outside Spain from 64 different countries. Equally important, faculty at European business schools are just as international. INSEAD professors and other instructors are 93% non-French; contrast that with the 39% of non-Americans teaching at Stanford. At IESE, there are more than 30 nationalities represented by the faculty and experts who teach in the MBA program.

This is great training for modern businesses. “Today, even in small companies, you have to be able to operate globally,” says HEC Paris Associate Dean Andrea Masini. “That means that you do need in your organization leaders who are capable to interact in that global community.”

Oliver Madden. Courtesy photo

Jose Esteves, associate dean of the International MBA at Madrid’s IE, adds: “This does not simply represent geographical diversity but also lends to a personal, multicultural, social, and historical immersion. For Americans, particularly those who might not have lived or worked extensively outside of North America, a European MBA is an entry into a more global mindset.”

Americans who choose to go to Europe for their MBA experience wholeheartedly agree. Madeleine Chabot, who is studying her MBA at HEC Paris, says: “I thought growing up in New York I was in the most diverse place imaginable, but I was wrong. I don’t think I fully grasped how much I was going to gain from that exposure until I experienced it all the time. Each culture brings its own perspective to every class and discussion, but on top of that it almost taught me a new way to think about things and almost making it a priority to learn as much as you can from each other’s perspectives.”

Oliver Madden, who studied in London and Paris at ESCP, says that his cohort was so diverse that “there was no dominant nationality, meaning everyone is an outsider. It really helps you reflect on yourself and your decision-making processes, to understand what is truly yours, and which are cultural, which is to say American.”

2) Because they tend to be shorter than the classic American two-year programs, European MBAs often give a greater ROI

Most European MBAs are 12 months long, and they can be as short as 10. The cost is usually lower, too. An MBA from SDA Bocconi in Milan costs €57,000 ($64,000), while London Business School’s two-year MBA costs a reasonable £82,000 ($104,000), nearly $60,000 less than the nearly $163,000 two-year tuition at Wharton. An MBA at Mannheim Business School, south of Frankfurt, Germany, is just ($45,000). You only have to pay living costs for a year, and the opportunity cost in terms of lost salary is also less.

Oliver Madden’s MBA “cost about 20% of an American equivalent,” he says, “and the return on my investment, in terms of job prospects, turned out to be equivalent.”

James Roe, who worked in the auto industry in Detroit and is just completing his MBA at Mannheim, says: “When you add everything up, my MBA was about a third of what you pay for an elite MBA in the U.S. And looking at the faculty, a lot of them have taught at those schools. At the end of the day, it was hard for me to justify not doing an MBA in Germany.”

3) A European MBA gives students a passport to Europe

INSEAD’s Virginie Fougea. Courtesy photo

In most European countries, a master’s degree gives you the right to work anywhere in the EU. “If I’m in Paris, I’m two hours from London and within driving distance of Berlin, Milan, Zagreb,” says Virginie Fougea, global director of admissions and financial aid for INSEAD, with campuses for MBA students in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore. “That gives you huge opportunities.”

For certain industries, Europe is the place to be. Madeleine Chabot went to HEC Paris because she was working in luxury goods, whose global capital is Paris. Having studied there, she is considering staying. “Initially, my plans were really to go straight back to the U.S. and to have a victory back to New York and this is really to solidify my stronghold in luxury. Over the past few months, the plan has gotten actually a little bit more flexible and I’m really open to staying in Europe, at least for the short term.”

Berlin is Europe’s startup capital, while London is great for finance (and fintech). Germany leads in manufacturing, especially the automotive industry, and northern Italy is a hotspot for the food and drink and luxury goods sectors. Schools are embedded in their own local region, and career services and professors have contacts that can help students get a job. “Mannheim is very well known in Germany,” says James Roe, who has landed a job at Deloitte in Germany.


Many Americans who decide to study in Europe have had positive experiences abroad. Consider Tyler Hayes who started his MBA at London Business School last fall. Though a self-styled “nerdy Jersey Shore” kid originally from Allenhurst, N.J., he had gone to King’s College in London for a master of research degree after earning his undergraduate degree in biology and French and Italian Studies at Duke University. He then worked as a cancer researcher in the United Kingdom before beginning medical school back in the states at Harvard where he earned his MD.

Returning to London for his MBA only seemed natural. “When settling on an MBA program,” he says, “it was important for me to be somewhere I could develop myself not only professionally but also personally. As someone who’s interested in the life sciences and biotechnology, being in the epicenter of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of top-tier universities in Oxford, Cambridge and London, along with the vast number of global pharmaceutical companies headquartered in the region, means that opportunities borne from advances in research won’t be too far from home.

“Having bounced back and forth between the U.S. and Western Europe many times over the last decade, I’ve also come to realize that grounding my career in Europe may be a better fit for me. Given LBS’ strong presence across the UK and the rest of Europe, whether through students, alumni, faculty, academic partnerships or networking opportunities, it made sense to land at a school where I could easily springboard to this part of the globe that always seems to pull me closer. “

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