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Study abroad: How will I finance my MBA?
Ross Geraghty
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August 18, 2008

An MBA abroad is a tough, expensive but potentially lucrative undertaking and prospective MBAs have so many relevant questions that entire books could be written on the subject. Here, the TopMBA Career Guide filters down the most commonly asked questions for people in the first stages of considering whether or not to do an MBA abroad.

How much experience should I have before applying for an MBA abroad?

An increasing number of graduates are applying for MBA courses immediately after their first degree. London [Images] Business School, for instance, will consider candidates, 'who present superior academic credentials and truly outstanding evidence of leadership through professional and personal experiences.'

However, the best advice is to gain at least four years in the workplace. Sej Butler, Recruitment manager of IBM Europe advises, "Before that I don't believe you are getting the most out of your MBA as you are still too junior in your career. Less than 2-3 years gives you less experience to draw on, so pre-MBA experience of 4-10 years is best. This means you will have been involved in leadership positions, and have some experience to draw on in terms of methods of working, communication and leadership styles. The MBA will be a great opportunity to enhance those skills."


How do I select the right business school?

There are hundreds of business schools around the world, and more than one 'right' school for you. We recommend short-listing five schools, that are your dream to get into, but where you will face stiff competition; one that is a prestigious 'evens bet' and two that you have a good chance of getting into. Think hard about what you want from your MBA, where you want to begin your career, where you'd like to live and what your realistic achievements are. Then work at finding out which schools are best placed to help you achieve your aims, communicate with them and don't be afraid to ask awkward questions.

When should I apply?

Early. Find out if your school has a rolling admissions process -- they take applications all year round -- or if there is a specific date deadline, and aim to get your application in some weeks before it. However, it's vital that you don't rush your application. Make sure you provide everything you need. A forgotten GMAT score or letter of recommendation is enough to see your precious application moved to the bottom of a growing pile.

Does it matter where in the world I study?

Not as much as it used to, as business continues to globalise. Narrow down your locations first. US and UK MBAs earn the highest average salaries but the costs of undertaking such courses are commensurately high. There are prestigious and cost-effective courses in Australia [Images], Europe and Asia. If you want to develop your career in Asia, for instance, Australian courses and businesses have close Asia-Pacific links; a course in Spain may not have the same links in Asian circles but will be beneficial if Latin America is your aspiration.

How important are league tables in making my decision?

Debate continues about rankings. John Seybolt, Dean of Melbourne Business School, says, "League tables are still critical to students' choices, but can be fickle and variable, especially on how they get their data. Students need to look very critically at them." 

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Sej Butler of IBM, says, "Rankings can be a useful guide depending on who does them. If you look at most rankings there is 60-70 per cent commonality, which shows that those schools must be doing something right. However it's unlikely that the schools just outside those top 10 rankings really lack quality."

Are highly ranked business schools good across the board?

A high-ranking business school may not be strong in one core area that interests you, such as finance or entrepreneurship, or may not provide excellent career facilities in a region of the world you want to live and work in. Also, remember that the highest ranked schools can also have the greatest competition to be accepted there. has an excellent Scorecard system that allows you to input what is important to you and to rank business schools accordingly. 

What is return on investment and how important is it?

Return on investment (RoI) is a method of comparing the post-graduation salary of an MBA course against the costs involved in taking that course. UK and US MBAs command the highest average salaries but are also the most expensive courses so the RoI may not be as high as attending a less expensive school with a burgeoning reputation. However, there is evidence that MBA salaries are converging as multinational companies benchmark salaries on a global rather than on a national scale. This is good news for those choosing to work in Latin America and parts of Asia and positively influences RoI.

Most MBA aspirants will look at the RoI to provide them with questions to ask of Admissions Directors, perhaps on the QS World MBA Tour. It is worth knowing, if the RoI seems unreasonably low, why that is.

Should the cost of an MBA be an important factor in my decision?

Yes. An MBA is a full-time commitment and you are unlikely to have time or energy to earn a salary as you study. Some manage to take on part-time or evening work, but time will be the most precious commodity to get the best from your course. Other than the tuition fees themselves, you will have to take 12 to 20 months out of your career, pay living expenses, books and other costs. Try and get a realistic appraisal about the costs of living in your host area. The host institution's International Office should have the expertise you need -- they like to be kept busy solving your problems, no matter how ridiculous you think your question may be. So do it. Keep them busy!

Don't forget travel costs, in the host country and home again. Plan trips home but also factor in other unforeseen trips you may need to make in case of emergency. And include the costs of any international exchange you may want to undertake.

The $100,000 question: How will I finance my MBA?

Most business schools will have some kind of contingency in place to help with some or all of your tuition fees or living costs, even when studying in a foreign country. We know that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of scholarships or other financial aid goes unclaimed every year so spend as much time as you can discovering what funding is available and how to put yourself in the driving seat to secure it. Remember, the school wants you to succeed so go to them for as much help as you can.

The main types of funding are: corporate scholarships, host institution scholarships, host institution loans and private loans. Some courses will have links with banks to secure a large loan and at good repayment rates so look closely at these. Lastly, a lot of people save the money to fund their courses themselves. Look closely at scholarships and loans but be prepared to have savings enough to look after yourself in difficult financial situations.

Are scholarship applications quite rigorous? 

Some scholarship applications can be quite straightforward; others, especially those of higher value or prestige, have a process as involved a process as your MBA application itself. Optimise your time by learning as much as possible about the institution offering the scholarship and the qualities they require successful candidates to possess.

More information on the wide range of MBA scholarships available can be found on the website at

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