What could an MBA do for you? Make you richer? Propel your career? Help you change direction entirely? It’s a broad business degree for professionals with several years’ experience, but it is, as business schools tell you, more than the sum of its parts.
And the range of backgrounds MBAs attract is testimony to the course’s broad appeal – elite athletes, creatives, military officers, engineers, coders and charity managers, as well as the bread and butter intake from the worlds of finance and consulting.
Despite being one of the priciest degrees on offer, numbers are rising at Europe’s business schools, and UK schools don’t appear to have been hurt by the uncertainty of Brexit, says Matt Symonds, director of admissions advisers Fortuna Admissions. In fact, they are reporting a surge in applications.
Two thirds of schools in the UK received more applications in 2017 than the year before, and European schools have also seen increases, says the Global Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which administers a business school aptitude test.
Highly competitive UK top schools famously charge eye-popping fees – London Business School’s (LBS) course costs £78,500, while Said Business School in Oxford charges £55,000, and cheaper schools still cost around £20,000. Students opting for full-time courses will also need to sacrifice a year or more of salary. A part-time degree – the executive MBA (EMBA) appeals to older professionals (usually 30s and upwards) but requires some deft time management and intensive periods of study.
With a broad curriculum, and options to specialise, an MBA is designed to nurture the soft skills demanded by blue-chip companies – leadership, empathy, and global awareness – as well as the nuts and bolts of business. Five years down the line, it’s these soft skills that many former students value most.
“I really love my job, so personal development wasn’t a factor for me,” says Sarah Cash, who studied for an EMBA at the University of Hull while working for charity Dove House Hospice as director of business and income development. “It helped with bigger goals, such as setting out strategy, direction and organisational culture, and also with the practicalities of dealing with staff, managing change and improving productivity.”
All schools will rush to warn prospective students that leaving their institution with an MBA doesn’t guarantee a whopping salary rise, though it has traditionally provided a solid route into lucrative sectors such as investment banking and consulting. Increasingly, the degree appeals to would-be entrepreneurs, with many schools hosting incubator hubs for new ventures and providing ongoing support for those with a desire to head off on the startup journey.
Most full-time UK courses last a year, but some, such as LBS and Alliance Manchester Business School, run up to 18-21 months. Students are handpicked to create a mix of backgrounds, nationalities – often from 40 or more different countries – and professional pedigree. Professional networking is part of the appeal, and students talk about an enduring professional community and list of contacts to draw on when entering the job market after graduating and as they progress further down the line throughout their careers.
While the course content can be challenging – pesky finance and accounting modules, which tend not to be for everyone – the focus is on group work and often live projects, some of them abroad. Students are known to have a change of heart during an MBA and head in a different direction entirely. Many graduates describe the experience as life changing.
When sizing up prospective applicants to the most competitive business schools, admissions advisers Fortuna are careful to manage expectations. Top schools in Europe are notoriously tough to get in to and students need to be realistic about their ambitions.
“Applicants need to demonstrate fast track professional development,” says Symonds. “But they also need to demonstrate how they would thrive in the classroom, how they will engage with the clubs on offer, and what will they bring to the course.”