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Should You Get Your MBA Abroad?

mba-study-abroadAmerican business school applicants are increasingly opting to go abroad for their MBAs, and with good reason - there are many advantages to overseas MBA programs. However, there are also drawbacks, and there are numerous factors you will need to consider before making this choice.

Overall, the U.S. is still considered the best place to get an MBA; in 2014, seven of the top ten MBA programs (according to the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings) were located in the U.S. For Americans applying abroad, European programs are the most popular. Some of the best-known business schools in the world include London Business School, INSEAD (in France), and IESE (with multiple campuses in Europe).

First and foremost, you need to figure out how getting an MBA abroad will fit your long-term goals. You will be building your professional network in a foreign country, rather than at home, and your qualifications (as well as the reputation of your school) may not easily transfer if you decide to return to the U.S. after graduation. However, the foreign language skills and international experience you gain can also be a huge asset in your future career; it all depends on your particular aspirations.

Foreign MBA programs may be easier to get into than domestic ones, partially because American applicants are highly valued overseas. They also tend to last a shorter amount of time - one year vs. two years for most U.S. programs - although this advantage is quickly disappearing as more and more U.S. schools offer accelerated MBA programs.

You will need to look into the visa application process for the country where you wish to study. Generally, you need a student visa in order to attend school in a foreign country. If you are planning to stay in that country after graduation, you should also find out how strict its immigration policies are, as this may affect your future plans.

If you are hoping to obtain employment during school, you may face a number of challenges. Language barriers or a weak job market may limit your ability to find a job, and student visas typically have rules restricting your ability to work. If your visa does allow you to work, you may be limited to a certain number of hours per week.

Health insurance is another important consideration. You will be overseas for an extended period of time, so you need to consider the possibility of illness or injury. In some countries, such as the U.K., you may qualify for national health insurance; if this is not the case, travel insurance may be a good option.

International MBAs can sometimes be cheaper, but they can also be much more expensive. Do not just consider tuition when evaluating your options; remember to account for airfare, housing, and other living expenses. Factor in the exchange rate, and remember that it may fluctuate while you are there. Websites such as Numbeo and the Expat Forum may be good resources to help you calculate the cost of living.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for financial aid, no matter where you go. Find out what kinds of incentives (if any) your school of choice offers to international students. At some schools, you will also be eligible for the same federal aid (including loans) that you could obtain while attending a school in the U.S. In addition, if you have any European ancestry and are planning to study in Europe, obtaining a European passport or Ancestral Visa may give you access to discounted tuition. Finally, you can find many scholarships and other forms of aid on websites such as Go Overseas and the Institute of International Education.

Getting your MBA abroad can be a difficult but rewarding process. Do your research, allow yourself plenty of time to prepare, and above all, understand how this will help you advance your career and reach your goals.