The MBA Is Dead!

Or so the headlines yell every now and then.  In reality, the MBA remains the world’s most recognised and wanted business qualification. However, before you apply for your MBA course, there are 11 things you should know.


Does it have to be an MBA?

MBA tips for international students

For ambitious graduates interested in becoming business managers or leaders an MBA is often the default choice. Yet, whereas an MBA is indeed an impressive qualification to have, it may not always be the most suitable qualification for everyone. Make sure to read our post on specialised Masters or a MiM (Master in Management) courses as, depending on your profile and budget, they can sometimes be a better fit.


Do you meet the MBA entry requirements?

MBA tips for international students

One of the first things to consider as you choose your MBA programme is whether you have the required qualifications.

To get into any of the top British business schools, you will need to have completed an undergraduate degree with high grades (upper 2.1 classification in the UK system). You’ll be able to find out what this translates into for your qualification by looking at the entry requirements on the websites of two or three business schools. There’s likely to be information specific to your country, and remember you can always contact the business school’s admissions office.

In addition to your degree, you will probably have to take GMAT, although the score required can vary from school to school. In any case, GMAT is usually considered as part of your wider application and profile, and is never the only factor in the school’s decision.

Also, if English is not your first language, you will be asked to prove that you have reached an English proficiency level equivalent to IETLS 6.5 or 7.0 (at a minimum). When it comes to meeting the English language requirements, business schools tend not to be flexible (unless they can offer you ‘pre-sessional’ English language training in the form of a short and intensive English course before the start of the MBA course).


Your work experience will determine your options

MBA tips for international students

Another factor that will determine your MBA options is your work experience. The most selective MBA courses in the UK will usually ask that you have at least 3-5 years of full-time work experience (since your graduation from university).

At least some of your work experience needs to be managerial: you should have managed people, budgets, projects, processes, events, etc.  MBA selection committees will also look for ‘progression’ in your career, in other words: promotions, an increase in responsibility/autonomy/decision-making, and so on. Make sure to showcase your achievements in your CV.


If you don’t have work experience, should you still apply for an MBA course?

MBA tips for international students

Accredited MBA courses are usually strict on the work experience requirement. There are ‘pre-experience’ MBA courses that you can apply for if you don’t have work experience, but be aware that some people don’t regard them highly and say they’re ‘not the real thing’.

This is because gaining an MBA qualification isn’t simply about attending lessons and learning some theories. You need work experience to better connect what you learn to real business situations. Your work experience will enable you to get the most out of the MBA course and to do well during and after your studies.


Choose an accredited MBA course

MBA tips for international students

One thing I would recommend is that you choose an MBA course that is accredited.

Accreditation is given by independent organisations and is a form of quality assurance. Business schools have to meet strict requirements to obtain and keep their accredited status. This is why, for example, prestigious business schools will not admit students with fewer than three years work experience: it’s often a requirement by the accrediting body.

Be careful though: some accreditations are specific to the MBA course, others are broader and look at the business school:


Start planning your career before you start the MBA

MBA tips for international students

People always say an MBA is an ‘investment’ in your future. Especially prestigious MBA courses tend to pay off in terms of employment and earning opportunities post MBA.  It is no secret that the most sought-after employers hire MBAs almost exclusively from a small pool of ‘elite’ business schools.

So, in order for the MBA to bring the desired returns, it must match your career goals. Don’t leave anything to chance and do your research to pick the best programm for you.

For example, if you’re aiming for a promotion, speak to your manager: Will the MBA make a positive difference, if so, how? What would they like you to take away from gaining an MBA?


Reputation is important, but rankings can be a strange thing

MBA tips for international students

If MBA ranking tables were the first place you looked when searching for a good MBA course, you’ll be forgiven. After all, league tables often appear to be an objective measure. And business schools tell us how great they are by drawing our attention to their ranking performance.

However, whilst MBA rankings are important, we need to take them with a pinch of salt.  Ranking results do tend to fluctuate and you have to wonder how it’s possible for a school to be placed #10 in one year and to drop to #25 in the next. Or, how it can rank #25 in one ranking but only #60 in an another league table.

The differences are usually brought about by the ranking methodology: when the ranking methodology changes, the ranking results tend to change with it.

Just bears this in mind when looking at league tables. Also, make sure you understand what the league table measures and whether it ranks the MBA course specifically or the business school as a whole.


Who else is on the MBA course

university interview tips for international students

Diversity in the classroom is very important and can really impact your experience. A quality MBA course will attract ambitious candidates from both genders and different nationalities.  The average age is normally 26-28 years and candidates will usually have worked for 3-5 years since graduating from university.

I would recommend that you try to obtain information about the class profile either from school’s website or by emailing their admissions office. Look for details such as:

  • How many students on the course
  • Average age of students
  • Male / female ratio
  • Average number of years work experience
  • Main industries and business sectors students have worked in
  • Countries students come from

What ‘extras’ does the MBA course offer?

MBA tips for international students

Look at the MBA course structure and in particular the modules and electives available to you. Do they match your interests? Will you be able to specialise as you progress through your MBA?

Also, there needs to be a balance between the theoretical and the practical aspects of your MBA. Find out about:

  • How much of your learning will be through case studies.
  • Practical projects you will work on and where they will take place.
  • Any field trips abroad, for example, if the school has links to another business school or to companies abroad.
  • The school’s business links in the UK, as this will influence their list of guest speakers, internship opportunities and project placements for you and your fellow students.

How long can you afford to be a student?

MBA tips for international students

In the UK, many MBA programmes last 12 months, just like regular Masters courses. But others may have a duration of 18 or even 24 months.

Think about the ideal programme length for you. This may depend on your job and family commitments, and of course on your financial situation.

When it comes to financial considerations, don’t forget that in addition to the MBA tuition fees, you will have indirect cost such as your living expenses and the cost of giving up your full-time salary for at least the duration of the course.

How much are you willing to spend on the MBA course?

MBA tips for international students

For international students from outside of the EU, the MBA tuition fees on average are £18,350. Let me repeat: on average. Look closely at the tuition fees charged by business schools across the country and you will see a huge difference between the cheapest and the most expensive MBA course.

At the lower end, you have non-accredited, not very selective ‘pre-experience’ MBA courses with tuition fees of around £7,500. At the higher end, you have double-accredited, highly selective MBA programmes taught by some of the best business schools globally with tuition fees exceeding £50k.  Of course, there is a lot of middle ground in between.

 After the tuition fees, your next highest cost will be your living expenses. Here, you will find big differences between different cities and regions in the UK, especially when it comes to rent.

*Source: Times Higher Education, International and postgraduate fees survey, 2016.


If you see the MBA as an investment, then aim to join the best MBA course that your qualifications, work experience and financial situation allow.

What makes a course ‘best’ will depend on your goals and aims. Don’t leave anything to chance, find out in advance how the MBA will enhance your career. Speak to your manager or potential future employers.

MBA rankings are imperfect, but that’s not to say they don’t matter. Always question what’s behind the results and look at ranking trends over time and across different ranking tables, rather than the outcome in one ranking table, in one given year. If the results are inconsistent, you’ll know they cannot be completely reliable.

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