An in-depth look at the differences between European and American MBA

Business students in countries outside Europe and the USA often wish to pursue an international postgraduate degree. The latest MBA salary and job trends report states that 67% of MBA employers feel that "candidates with international experience outperform those without." Students all over the world often face a dilemma when choosing between a European MBA and an American MBA. While analysing factors such as lifestyle, degree value, teaching style and return on investment, prospective students often come across confusing results that do not help them make an intelligent or informed decision. They often begin by comparing tuition fees, university rankings and admission requirements when choosing whether to go for a European MBA or an American MBA. While these factors are highly important, let's consider what each of these MBA programmes can offer in terms of return on investment, educational and career value, as well as culture and lifestyle.

International networking opportunities

Warwick Business School's Global Business School Report states "European business schools continue to be at the forefront of innovation in business education, ensuring they attract top international talent which in turn attracts global MBA employers". This statement holds true for most European business schools, as statistics show that 96% of the class come from outside the school’s country of domicile, providing a highly diverse networking and study environment. However, it is no secret that Harvard Business School and Stanford Business School have topped the world rankings over the years and are rightfully the pride and joy of American business education. A closer analysis of the Harvard Business School's class profile shows that the MBA class only consists of 34% international students, giving prospective students limited international networking exposure. However, there are generally plenty of socialising and networking opportunities for students who attend American universities, even though there may be fewer options for international exposure. According to the 2015 Alumni Perspectives Report, an MBA graduate stated, "Don't forget that your professional network will play a major role in your success. Every job that I have gotten after undergrad has been through my network." Nevertheless, while there may be a difference in the international networking opportunities between American universities and European universities, there are several other differences between a European MBA and an American MBA.

Admission criteria

While American institutes usually hold the top spots in world rankings for business education by Forbes, The Economist, and the Financial Times, top ranking business schools and universities in Europe usually measure up to their American counterparts. As mentioned above, European institutions usually have a higher international intake and provide students with greater networking opportunities and a more diverse classroom environment. However, most European institutions, such as the London Business School, have a lower intake of females, who make up 25-36% of MBA classes compared to a 40% female intake at American institutes such as Harvard Business School. Nevertheless, while maintaining a good standard of education, top European universities have lower admission criteria compared to their American equivalents. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business requires a GMAT score of 723 and Stern School of Business asks for 729, while European universities such as London Business School require a score of 700, and HEC Paris requires 685. This does not necessarily mean that European schools have a lower standard, but is often perceived by applicants as an advantage, as European schools may have less competitive admission criteria, increasing chances of admission to top MBA programmes.

Duration of studies

Another distinct feature of MBA programmes in European universities is that they last for one year compared to two-year programmes in the United States. Again, this does not mean that European programmes are of less value but means the one-year programme is often more rigorous and demanding than the two-year MBA offered in the United States. Hence, if you want to gain useful knowledge throughout your MBA and possibly earn a few bucks in between, perhaps choosing an American MBA is the path for you. If you want to save on accommodation and tuition fees and complete your MBA as quickly as possible, then choosing a European MBA may be the way to go. Another keen observation is that European MBA students are usually older and have more work experience, while USA MBA students tend to be younger with less work experience.

Employability of graduates

While we have analysed class profiles and the structure of MBA programmes in both Europe and the United States, it is also important to mention what the different programmes offer to their alumni after they have graduated, in terms of return on investment and career opportunities. While it is obvious that different universities have different rankings and thus different pay scales for their graduates, the average pay scale for an MBA graduate in Europe and America is likely to be stable. Trends have shown that European MBA graduates have a higher rate of unemployment after graduation, which measures 18%, while American MBA graduates were 95% employed at the end of 2014, and only 5% remained unemployed after graduation. This may be due to the fact that American MBAs opted for work opportunities within the United States. As the country is so large and economically developed, it was easier for them to find jobs. However, it must be noted that American MBA graduates were less likely to receive jobs in Europe, and European MBA graduates had a lower employment rate in the United States (Find MBA, 2013).Thus, one factor which is highly essential in determining which MBA to choose is where an individual plans to live and work. A prospective student should opt for post-graduate education in the region where they wish to work after graduation, as job prospects are likely to be more promising.


Compensation and starting salary rates differ by geographic region and by the graduate school attended. Nevertheless, the average starting salary of an American citizen after an MBA programme has been found to be approximately $90,000, while for Stanford business school graduates it was approximately $125,000. European MBA graduates have reported the highest median starting salary to be approximately $101,093. Although European graduates are showing a lower salary scale compared to top-notch American graduates, this does not necessarily mean that they are showing a lower return on investment, as European tuition fees are also likely to be lower than those of American institutes. However, employer attitudes towards hiring American or European graduates are rather perplexing, as different companies have differing perspectives and have not generalised their options. Most renowned institutions all over the world have claimed that they judge a candidate based upon his/her personal skills and do not majorly differentiate between European graduates and/or American graduates. However, some employers are more critical and have preferences for a two-year MBA or prefer the European style of teaching. For example, Jo Ward, Human Resource Specialist at Nestle and Robin Pring, Human Resource Manager at Heineken hold the views that European education is more serious, rigorous, and demanding. Thus, they find European graduates more capable of handling demanding work, as opposed to American graduates. However, they feel that American graduates work better in creative areas such as advertising. On the contrary, some developing countries, such as India and Pakistan, have a particular perception of prestige and awe for American universities based upon their personal bias or preferences. Accordingly, international students from Asia and other regions may impress employers more with an American degree than with a European degree.

Quality of education

Does the quality of education differ between American MBAs and European MBAs? The curriculum taught during MBA programmes shows no evidence of major disparities in the quality of education offered. The Bocconi School of Management in Italy shows that MBA graduates received a 121% salary increase and 91% of the class of 2013 has found jobs in other countries. Kyle Andrews, a student currently enrolled in a European MBA programme at the University of Glasgow after completion of an American Masters commented, "I think the curriculum in Europe is far more demanding than what was taught during the Masters in Management in the USA. I think both regions have their own plus points when it comes to quality of education and the manner in which it is taught at business schools. It also depends upon the local business culture in that region."

While analysing employer trends and the acquisition of soft skills such as leadership, presentation skills, networking and teamwork, companies like Google and L'Oreal do not hide the fact that they have seen better leaders amongst American graduates, and better team workers amongst European graduates. However, once again, no clear generalisations can be drawn, as such qualities may exist within the cultural traits of people belonging to that region. For example, according to Hofstede's popular cultural dimensions theory, Americans are known for being more individualistic and materialistic, while Europeans are slightly more collectivist by nature. Recent articles by The Economist and other magazines have  mentioned that American MBAs tend to be more practical and the curriculum offered gives them a more hands-on experience, rather than majorly focusing upon theory. Moreover, American MBAs gain more exposure during the course of their studies because of the longer duration of their MBA, while European MBAs may be solely focusing on their studies during this time. However, no generalisations can be made regarding this, as it solely depends on an individual's personal skills and personality.

Other factors

There are multiple factors to consider when deciding between a European MBA and an American MBA. In addition to class profiles and return on investment, international students must consider aspects such as expenditure, visa acquisition, scholarships, financial aid and the ability to work in a particular location after the completion of their studies. It is generally harder to acquire American study visas, but obtaining a work permit may be easier. However, in Europe, it is generally easier to obtain a study visa but obtaining a work permit after completion of studies may be more difficult. Moreover, the type of lifestyle and culture one prefers may also be an influence in choosing between an American MBA and a European MBA. As the USA is a very large country, it offers different lifestyles and culture in different areas. If you prefer exploring colonial history or if you’re interested in knowing more about the Civil Rights Movement, you may be keen to head to the USA for your MBA. If you prefer a place with a lot of historical sites and an amalgamation of different national cultures and ethnicities, Europe may be your ticket for post-graduate education! It may not hurt to consider the type of weather you are looking for as well, before making your decision.

To wrap up the rigorous debate on whether a European MBA is the preferred choice to an American MBA, it is evident that no clear conclusion can be drawn, as both have their own plus points and are distinctly different from one another in various ways. It merely depends on the needs of applicants and the type of lifestyle they prefer. Hence, lower expenditure, shorter MBA and socialising with people from different cultural backgrounds would attract a person who is opting for a European MBA, while a longer and possibly more expensive education with a fast-paced lifestyle would be the preferred choice for a person choosing an American MBA. However, no hard and fast rules exist regarding the credibility of the university chosen for a post-graduate education. It usually depends on a person's own abilities, hard work, skills and vigour, which land them a job and a promising career.

Perhaps prospective students should focus more on the ranking and perceived quality of the university and its courses, the type of electives offered during the MBA, their budget and their future employment and living plans, rather than being overly concerned about whether their degree has the name of an American university or an European university on it. There are more important factors which determine an individual's success, which may not be directly related to the location of their post-graduate school. Hence, whether you choose an American MBA or a European MBA, remember to work hard and with full zeal and make the most of this essential part of your education! Make every minute count before you step out and apply your knowledge to the practical world, and make sure you choose wisely according to the factors that suit you. Employers are often likely to be impressed with a candidate's personal profile and achievements rather than the name of the business school they come from.

This article has been produced by Advent Group and featured in the 2015-2016 Access MBA Guide