What to Look for in a Top International MBA Program

Monday, March 26, 2018

USD What To Look For In A Top International MBA

As a prospective student, see what you should look for in a top international MBA program.

Thinking about pursuing an international MBA but having trouble deciding which program is right for you? Are you up to your eyeballs in rankings and lists claiming to divulge the best international degree programs? Is everything starting to blend together, leaving you wondering, “What exactly am I looking for?”

Truth is, algorithm-based sources cannot possibly tell you which school has the best international MBA program, because the best program is the one that meets your needs and preferences. From the personal relevance of the curriculum to class size and student focus, there are many things to consider when choosing an international MBA program before you can make an informed and confident decision.

Based on feedback from students about what they have found most valuable about our international degree program at the University of San Diego (USD) School of Business, along with insight from the current job market, we are here to help you identify the key things prospective students should be looking for in an international MBA and steps toward a lucrative career post-graduation. Whether you are aiming to advance your career, lead the charge in taking an idea overseas, or bring the next big thing to the market as an entrepreneur, one thing we can tell you is this: you are making the right choice to pursue an international MBA.

The Global Economy: History and Future

Though the origin of globalization is debated among historians, the general consensus is that it began as early as the 15th century, when Columbus set sail for the New World. But whether its so-called “big bang” occurred in 1492 or 1992, globalization remains an undeniable force in today’s economy, with Fortune’s 2017 Global 500 reporting the world’s top 500 corporations have headquarters in 34 countries.

It is not just the geographic distribution of these companies that is becoming more multinational, but equally so the diversity of their operations. As companies continue to expand into international markets, employees with diverse cultural perspectives and global business acumen are at an increasing advantage.

The International MBA

An international MBA program is an appealing option for professionals looking to gain a deeper knowledge of how businesses run in various parts of the world, and is particularly useful for those looking to advance on their current career path. Available at select schools in the U.S. and across Europe with an accelerated curriculum, an international MBA is an immersive degree program designed for professionals interested in honing their business skills and global competency while gaining valuable international experience.

In today’s competitive business environment, it is no surprise that international MBAs are gaining traction as a springboard for career advancement. As universities evolve to meet the demands of the modern workforce, these degree programs are being promoted for their most appealing elements: high return on investment, immersive curriculums and uniquely global learning experiences.

An Enriching Global Experience

Employers and universities are realizing more than ever the value of international experience to facilitate growth into new markets and mitigate potential risk. By definition, an international MBA should provide this experience, bolstering the skills needed to manage multicultural teams and forge effective relationships with global stakeholders.

The best—and arguably, only—way to instill these skills is through applied learning—a combination of classroom and hands-on instruction that gives students the opportunity to experience firsthand the successes and challenges faced by global businesses. A course on global supply chain management, for instance, could be supplemented with a one- to two-week visit to a company’s manufacturing facility in Hong Kong to study its global chain of production from procurement to distribution.

At the USD School of Business, applied learning is a key component of both the MBA and International MBA curricula. Based on courses in which they are enrolled at the time, students have the opportunity to actively learn from international businesses in an intimate capacity, taking class in conference rooms of some of the world’s biggest companies and interacting with staff members across their operations.

For Leonie Sandelbaum, a USD School of Business alumna currently working for ING Bank in the Netherlands, the most invaluable aspects of the International MBA program were these international experiences, which included a study semester in Argentina and two consulting projects in Dubai and Shanghai, as well as various study trips to Istanbul, Bogotá and Mexico.

“It really helps me professionally that we had the exposure to so many cultures and countries while being in the International MBA program,” said Sandelbaum. “In my current job in corporate strategy at ING Bank, I am covering our global portfolio from a strategy perspective, and the team I am working with is also very diverse and multicultural. My intercultural insights from the program have helped me tremendously to not only navigate the organization internally, but also reach out to external stakeholders with confidence.”

Sandelbaum adds, “Having worked in management consulting before my IMBA, I found it very enriching that the program consulting projects allowed me to venture out of my comfort zone. I was able to apply my studies in environments and industries I wouldn't have imagined before, such as advising a producer of penetrating fluid on their market and competition strategy."

When choosing an international MBA program, the quality, scale and frequency of the global experiences are key components to consider. Particularly with an accelerated program, classroom learning must be applied quickly and often to ensure these skills are fully developed for professional use.

Class Size

Global MBA programs come in a wide variety of class sizes, from fewer than 100 students to well over 1,000. When it comes to the number of students for optimal learning, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it is whatever is most conducive to your personal ability to absorb and apply information. Both large and small class sizes carry the benefit of a collaborative learning experience and network of diverse yet like-minded professionals working toward the common goals of personal and professional development.

With an international MBA program, however, there is value to a more intimate learning environment, as having a close-knit group of peers going through the vast amount of travel and coursework together can actually enhance the experience. Students can more quickly identify and benefit from the complementary skillsets of their peers, and often build deeper, longer-term relationships that can provide value both throughout the program and into the job market.

In terms of the actual classroom experience, a smaller class size enables professors to use a more conversational approach, supplementing their lectures with immediate, applied learning to solidify new concepts. Students are pushed further to think and participate, which fosters a much deeper level of learning than simply memorizing pages in a textbook and filling out a scantron. Professors should know their students by name, and their doors should always be open.

For these reasons, the USD School of Business’ inaugural 11-month International MBA cohort, which will begin at the University of San Diego Madrid Center, is being offered to an exclusive group of ten students in total, enabling both students and professors to get to know one another on a more profound level. Following cohorts will have about twenty students on average. Once their studies in Europe are complete, the International MBA class will join the full-time and professional MBA students at the university’s San Diego campus – named most beautiful campus in the U.S. by The Princeton Review in 2017. This diversified learning model offers students a mix of small, personalized learning supplemented by the opportunity to connect with the university’s full class of MBA students and further expand their networks.

High Return on Investment

If you are a business-minded professional—and we are guessing you are—you likely already understand the above-all importance of bottom-line growth through return on investment. Using a formula that weighs post-graduation earnings against the cost of foregone compensation, tuition and fees for the duration of the degree program, Forbes ranks annually the top business schools around the world based on their median returns on investment.

While the application of Forbes’ rankings may be for MBAs specifically, the same formula can and should be applied to international MBAs, especially as they gain popularity among professionals looking for commensurate experience on an accelerated path. A leading international MBA program is an intensive international MBA program—one that provides an immersive experience that is equivalent to a traditional MBA in terms of skills and experience acquired.

International programs can offer unprecedented return on investment, particularly with schools offering an accelerated curriculum. With significantly less time out of the workforce and reduced tuition, fees and expenses, a one-year international MBA can provide a faster and higher return on investment. According to Forbes, the typical one-year international MBA graduate is able to pay back the cost in just 2.3 years.

A Student-Centric Approach

A key feature of any reputable MBA program is a commitment to the success of its students from the time of enrollment through graduation and beyond. As students embark on a one to two-year-long academic career comprising extensive travel and a wealth of international experiences, universities must be able to provide continuous support for the entire duration of the program. This means dedicated staff to help students secure local and international housing, faculty on hand at all times, and an accessible team of university personnel ensuring students are adequately prepared for each and every element of the program.

With a one-year international MBA in particular, during which students may visit up to five countries within a 12-month period, the university must be able to deliver both academically and administratively, providing assistance around tuition, housing and the logistics associated with traveling and living abroad.

Flexible Admissions & Financial Aid

Factoring in tuition, books, housing and the cost of foregone salary, an MBA can seem like a daunting process, especially when heavy international travel is involved. Students who see cost as a primary concern should assess their eligibility for financial aid and look to universities that have moderate tuition rates, abundant funding of scholarships, and a flexible admissions process.

As scholarship funding exceeds $200 million a year for the top 25 U.S. business schools alone, admissions directors are in a position to work with both U.S. and international applicants to achieve enrollment status—and it is in their best interest to do so. New study data from NAFSA: Association of International Educators found that during the 2016-2017 academic year, international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 450,000 jobs.

At the USD School of Business, qualified international MBA applicants are eligible for scholarships of up to 75 percent, giving students of all backgrounds and at all stages of their careers the opportunity to further enhance their skills as they align with the current job market.

Housing Support

Finding safe, affordable and convenient housing is a top concern for students enrolling in an international MBA program, especially for those traveling from other countries. Not only do you need to find a place to live near the university’s home campus, but also in each of the countries you will be visiting throughout the duration of the program. Students may have the option to find their own housing, but it is up to the university to provide adequate options and support throughout the process.

While many universities offer dorm-like accommodations on or around campus, finding student housing abroad can be a bit tricky. International students who are unfamiliar with the region and culture of study are especially vulnerable to potential risks, which can range from undesirable roommates at best to fraudulent landlords at worst.

If dormitory housing is unavailable, the safest and typically least expensive option is for students to rent rooms from places that have been pre-vetted by the university—and to do so under the guidance of the university’s advisory staff. Whether an international student is studying at a U.S. university or a U.S. student is traveling abroad, a university advisor should be able to provide clear, comprehensive guidance and ensure full understanding of local tenant rights and responsibilities. In the University of San Diego Madrid Center, students have the advantage of receiving support from local staff members during the first semester of the International MBA program in Spain.

IMBA Housing Options

International Student Services

For international students who have the added burden of navigating complex visa and immigration requirements, a student-focused program is critical to academic success. International student introductory programs are one way b-schools are working to enhance the experience for their international students, providing a glimpse into local business, social and cultural scenes while also educating on things like health, housing, transportation and immigration regulations.

At USD, students have ongoing access to their advisor, along with the graduate business student services team, the Ahlers Center for International Business and the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS). These resources combine to offer a completely connected experience for students from all corners of the globe.

Cultural acclimation is just one aspect of a degree program that is committed to providing an enriching academic experience for its students. An international student herself, USD School of Business alumna, Leonie Sandelbaum, had a number of hesitations about participating in an international MBA program, chief among them being the costs and complexities surrounding student visa policies.

“I was concerned about whether I could finance myself throughout the entire program, knowing that international students are so constrained due to visa reasons,” said Sandelbaum. “Fortunately, the Ahlers Center for International Business at the USD School of Business provided a lot of scholarship opportunities for study abroad throughout the program, and, additionally, I found a fulfilling job on campus.”

Professional-Level Training & Career Services

Developed at the turn of the 20th century for company owners to keep up with an industrializing workforce, an MBA is inherently a tool for business growth and career advancement. As with any b-school degree program, a quality international MBA program should have a successful track record of post-graduation employment and an intensive, business-driven curriculum that fully prepares students for the reality of the professional world.

This preparative learning is again achieved through an applied learning model, wherein classroom lessons are supplemented with hands-on experience at leading businesses around the world, which at USD have included Cisco’s Foxconn production facility in Hong Kong, Nike’s manufacturing plant in Shanghai and various international consulting projects for small, medium and large organizations. These immersive experiences are further enhanced through workshops, mock interviews, coaching and executive mentoring, setting up students for success as they follow their desired career track.

For professionals looking to an international MBA as a career-advancing mechanism—especially one toward an international career—the ability to obtain meaningful employment quickly after graduation is a leading factor in the decision. In a recent survey conducted by U.S. News, the average employment rate three months after graduation among full-time MBA students was 88.3 percent, skewed slightly by two schools with a 100 percent and 25 percent employment rate, respectively.

With a one-year MBA, post-graduation employment rates are equally as important, if not more so, than with a traditional MBA, as students have actively chosen an accelerated pathway to boost their careers. A top international degree program has a uniquely tailored program and dedicated staff that are committed to ensuring graduates are joining—or rejoining—the job market as quickly and as well-equipped as they can be. At the University of San Diego School of Business, there is a career services office focused on doing just this for all graduate business students. 

Quality of Student Life

At the end of the day, where you study is where you live—and you really should love where you live. Even if you are traveling to five countries in under a year, it is important to have home bases that are conducive to a positive academic experience.

By nature, an international MBA program can be a bit of a whirlwind experience, which for many students is part of the appeal. But simply because students who enroll know this going in, does not mean they should live like lone travelers. Just as the university should provide support in locating adequate room and board, it should equally support all aspects of student life, from accessibility to campus and businesses affiliated with the program to appreciation of the local culture.

At the USD School of Business, from the moment students set foot on our Madrid Center campus to the time they rejoin their MBA peers in San Diego, they enjoy a wealth of culturally enriching experiences that serve to complement their international coursework.

Ranked in Travel and Leisure’s 2017 list of the top 15 cities in Europe, Madrid is a bustling economic, cultural and political hub with no shortage of museums, galleries and some of the best tapas Spain has to offer. The USD School of Business’ International MBA program kicks off at the university’s Madrid Center, located just blocks away from Retiro Park and the world famous Prado Museum. As part of the program, students participate in a number of city tours, weekend excursions and other cultural experiences, including, of course, some of those world-renowned tapas. Many reliable housing options are available through USD, including apartments, homestays and residences.

After a summer in Madrid, students return home to our main campus in San Diego, where blue skies, sunshine and shoreline abound. Sure, we may be the slightest bit biased, but there are reasons our coastal city is regarded as America's finest—warm weather year-round, popular attractions, and white sand beaches, to name a few. The city also boasts close proximity to the nearby Baja region of Mexico, where students are able to continue their international learning experience after returning from Europe.

The Right International Program for You

We could continue on for ages about what you should be looking for in a top international MBA program, but we cannot emphasize enough that the best program is the one that accommodates your needs as a student and provides you with the skills to take your career to the next level—in whatever capacity that may be. As you may have guessed by now, these are not necessarily things that can be ascertained from a university’s marketing materials alone. And though we would love to tout the rankings—we’ve been listed in a few ourselves—they are just one aspect of an important, multidimensional decision.

Graduate school is a large investment that should not be taken lightly. Pick up the phone. Pay a visit. Ask to speak to alumni. Empowering yourself with information is the best thing you can do to ensure a decision that fuels a lucrative career.

We Are Here to Help

Whether or not the USD School of Business is on your international MBA short list, we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the degree program, the admissions process or business school in general. To learn more, visit our website or contact us directly at mba@sandiego.edu.


Renata Ramirez
(619) 260-4658