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Where should I do my MBA?
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October 09, 2008

Part I: Why I did an MBA abroad

USA! The land where, in spite of the financial turmoil, all dreams are fulfilled! OR
UK -- an unvoiced aspiration, a touch of class OR
Europe --  pretty, romantic, refined? OR
Australia [Images] -- spanking new, cheerful, fun!
Far East -- picturesque, ancient yet ultramodern OR
South East Asia -- closer to home, familiar, comfortable, cheap!

The decision to go abroad for the MBA was made, but when the time came to decide where exactly to go, the number and variety of options was baffling me, to say the least! Where should I start?!

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The US seemed the natural first choice for most of my fellow MBA applicants, thus, it seemed obvious to follow suit. It was, after all, the place where many Indians had transitioned from the mindset of a controlled socialist regime to the wonderful meritocratic broad-mindedness of capitalism. It was where middle class migrants had found an impartial platform to take their dreams to reality. It was the richest economy in the world, which welcomed foreigners like no other country in the world, to partake of that wealth. And, of course, it had the largest concentration of top international business schools. The legendary Harvards, Kelloggs and Yales of the world resided there. It was the ultimate destination for a young upwardly mobile corporate worker.

But then, in 2001, the world learned of a man named Osama Bin Laden. USA, after being struck by disaster on 09/11, changed its attitude towards foreigners and the value they added to its economy almost overnight. In an already recessionary economic trend, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York only served to extinguish the hopes of many MBA aspirants of making a successful career in the American corporate world.

Needless to say, it also dampened my spirits and inclination to retain US B-schools at the top of my priority list. In fact, the economic events of 2001 made me rethink my decision to even go to business school in the coming year. I rescheduled my GMAT test date for a later time in order to go over the MBA plan in greater detail.

However, given that the USA was still home to the greatest number of highly regarded B-schools, and because a strong brand name would matter even more in a slowing global economy, USA (Los Angeles and New York) remained a strong contender in my list of places to consider.

Most top US schools were similar in some respects -- a two-year format, very high tuition fees, living expenses almost as much as tuition fees, and few sources of funding open for international students. Given that Indians tend to find any other country (with the exception of Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka [Images]!), much more expensive than their motherland, the expected costs of doing an MBA in the US looked more terrifying, with each passing day.

To top that, the rupee-dollar exchange rate had never turned so unfavourable and so quickly for students as it did at that time. With the forex rate at Rs 47.50 to a dollar and expected to move to anywhere between Rs 49.00 to Rs 52.00, the feasibility of funding the education was becoming lower each day.

I voiced the concerns to a friend, an older, wiser and more knowledgeable colleague. He suggested something that had never occurred to me -- why not Australia? Why not, I said! It was certainly much cheaper, it had variable MBA formats from 16-month to 21 month programmes. There was less competition for the schools there and, thus, acceptance could be easier.

And, of course, the Aussies were known to be fun-loving people living in a beautiful country... er... continent. I quickly went to a global ranking list of B-schools, the famed Financial Times rankings, to figure out which schools were worth getting further information on. At least two appeared to meet the basic criteria. I put Australia (Sydney and Melbourne) on my long list.

From this experience, however, I felt it might well be worthwhile to expand my scan to a wider geography. When the cost impact of a shorter versus longer programme became apparent, I thought it only made sense to scour the B-school map for programmes shorter than two years. That was when I became aware of the European model of business education.

The consistently shorter programmes, more diverse classrooms, and the attraction of bilingual teaching methods proved to be a strong proposition, not to mention the charm of a European city. Living and working there in the future appeared as exciting as anywhere else. It was heartening to note that several European B-schools were ranked high on many important aspects by various publications. So, Europe, more specifically France [Images] (Paris) and the Netherlands (Rotterdam), found a place on my long list.

Now, one could not go to the continent and not visit the islands, the once-upon-a-time masters of our motherland. Given the long-standing affinity that Indians have had for the Kingdom, I checked out the UK B-schools too.

By now, I had ordered brochures through the online request forms for over 50 schools from around the world. Managing all the information in my head would not prove efficient, I realised. I took recourse in the wonders of MS-Excel and created a master database with information on every conceivable variable that a typical B-school applicant would want to consider in a B-school. Of course, the UK was also officially on the long list now. The giants, Oxford and Cambridge, had to be considered. And the idea of being in or near the beautiful and happening London [Images] was a strong motivator.

No major geographical region should be left out, I reasoned, especially, if there was a chance to find out whether a gem was hidden in my own backyard. I hastened to check out what Asia had to offer. While China and Hong Kong posed a language problem (Mandarin and its various forms not being the easiest to learn) Japan [Images] had yet to earn a strong reputation for its business education.

Philippines did not resonate with my ambitions of settlement and was ruled out. Singapore, however, seemed to be an ideal fit, the right balance between quality, cost, reputation, opportunity for work, internationalism and familiarity. It was a winner from the start, and it went up on the list.

The research was now complete, I decided. I now had five major geographical regions on my list, each represented by two locations on average. By now I also was the proud owner of my very own library of B-school programme brochures from over ninety schools across the globe. I knew, in careful detail, the attributes of at least 75 of the schools on the current Financial Times Top 100 Global MBA Rankings, and those of another 15 odd that are not currently ranked.

Each brochure had markings in relevant sections in various colours, date of receipt of the brochure, a sign extracted from a well-defined legend indicating the level of desirability of the school/ programme on the cover page, and an autograph by yours truly.

I would have to admit that even though my search for a location and B-school was more broad-based than that of many others, who singularly focussed on one country, usually the US or UK, I did rely on rankings, albeit from more than one source (about five, actually), to make a first cut. Also, I looked at rankings across three or four years to ensure that a school's reputation was consistent.

However, I was so involved in the due diligence that I went beyond an academic study of school websites and brochures, and ensured that I spoke to alumni from the schools wherever possible, whether I intended to go to the school or not. I consistently kept track of discussion threads on online message boards to get a sense of the environment at the schools. I interacted with other MBA hopefuls to stay motivated, to get ideas for improving my application, and to develop clarity in my own objectives.

When I look back, it surprises me that I had the perseverance to keep up the research for a whole year before I started the application process. Of course, the immersion in this study ensured that my application process was extremely efficient and effective. In fact, through the process, I have had the chance to get in touch and stay connected with alumni from several B-schools around the globe, something that would have hardly been possible if my search had been uni-directional. The need or benefit of having that network has already started becoming apparent in my life post MBA.

To all aspirants, I would say, it is great if you have already made the decision to study in a specific country. If you have not yet reached that stage, however, do remember to keep your mind open to possibilities. An MBA is not a fad; it will be a major investment from which you should be able to extract as much value as possible. Whatever course you take, ensure that you retain the objectivity in your plan.

Part I: Why I did an MBA abroad

This article from is the second in a series of five articles focussing on pursuing an MBA abroad. This article has been authored for by Maithilee Shirgaonkar, an MBA from Said Business School, University Of Oxford. Easy, Effective and Personalized, currently provides complete online preparation for CAT, XAT, FMS. In addition to solved papers of last 3 CATs, the user friendly website has 4 free iCATs, puzzles, Question of the Day, Daily Vocabulary List, Interactive Learning Games and Ask-a-Doubt.

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