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22/05/2008 19:08


Hi there,

I'm thinking about doing an MBA and I'm planning to apply to the top business schools. I don't know if I'll make or not, but I'm willing to give it a try.

I'm just trying to decide between European or American business schools. I know that the American schools like Harvard, Wharton or Stanford are the best worldwide; but if I want to work in Europe or Asia, would INSEAD be a better option?

What do you think about the reputation and the career opportunities in INSEAD? I've read loads of things about them (specially on their website), but I'd like to know your opinion about it.

Do people go to INSEAD because they are not admitted in Harvard, Wharton, etc; or would you rank it at the same level than these schools?



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01/07/2008 15:51

Raj to chris (#1)

Hi Chris,

First of all congrats on reaching on your decision for applying to the Ivy league B-Schools since its one of the most important things you would do in your life both interms of financial and time invested.

Your decision in this case should be largely based on where you want to work after your degree. If europe and asia figure topmost in your preference list then INSEAD is a very good bet it also has tie-up with Wharton so may be you can spend sometime there to know if you took the right decision. Also since european b-school programs are of shorter duration you save a lot on fees as well as gain extra work exp. The other reputed b-schools in Europe which you can think of are LBS,IMD,HEC Paris and RSM. For details and differences with regards to their approach you can look at there websites.

Most of them generally have international information sessions. Its always good to meet the people from the college as well as their alumni in these meetings to have a better idea. The decision always has to be based on your personal feeling assuming that you have multiple acceptance letters. All the best.


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01/07/2008 16:12

Mars A Day to chris (#1)

A good benchmark is to look at the alumni of each and see where they go, get a feel for how many of each year's alumni are joining the kind of firms you want to join etc. The INSEAD vrs Wharton argument is largely one of length of course and networking - if you want to focus in Europe/Asia you will more readily be able to build localised networks at INSEAD obviously, but 2 years out of your MBA it won't matter which one of the 2 you attended. The important decision is to attend a top school, make the financial sacrifices, and see the return on that investment and you have made that so you can't go too far wrong in any event.

If you are looking at IB then I suggest Wharton as this is considered to be the best for banking though.

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01/07/2008 16:24

Chris to Mars A Day (#3)

Raj and Mars A Day,

Thanks a lot for your replies. I have been thinking about it and I'm definitely going to apply to the 5 top BS. And I include INSEAD among them. The reason I asked about its reputation is very simple. I have done some research about the future career prospects, and, while no other school beats Harvard or Wharton, there are other decent schools out there that have many alumni in strong firms like Mckinsey, BCG, or Goldman. However, what schools do not mention is the number of students that were working in those companies before doing the MBA. As you know, McKinsey pays MBAs to some of their employees, and obviously, they come back to the firm after they finish their studies. So at some point, I guess I cannot trust the recruitment figures that much.

When thinking about such an investment, I admit that, although INSEAD has a strong MBA program, it does not have the automatic reputation of Universities such as Harvard or Stanford. In other words, if I apply for a job in Chicago, probably INSEAD will mean nothing to them. On the other hand, if I apply for a job in any part of the world they will do know what Harvard means.

In any case, INSEAD has a huge advantage: it is way cheaper.

Any thoughts on this?



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01/07/2008 16:50

Mars A Day to Chris (#4)

Chris you will have the MBA for the rest of your working life, and it will be critical in your next move. The INSEAD MBA may be cheaper, but which one makes you feel more confident it will pay for itself? If you had to have 1 car for the rest of your life, with the rest of your life to pay for it, would you take the Aston Martin because it carries cache and would ensure you would get let out of side streets, or the BMW, because it is cheaper (but you won't win any special treatment with it). Guess which one is the Aston.

INSEAD is a great bs, and if you want to remain in the UK/Asia/Europe it will be a great choice, Wharton will be a great choice anywhere in the world. Yes Wharton will be more expensive but so what? Over a lifetime the difference will be negligible.

You need to put cost issues aside if you can afford either and ask yourself which one will make you confident you can get a return on the investment, and - playing devil's advocate - would you look back on the cheaper INSEAD MBA and feel it was a choice on cost not on value?

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01/07/2008 20:58

anon to Mars A Day (#5)

Where people work after the MBA is a very important point.

Looking at Insead (info downloadable from their site) very few go to investment banking/sales & trading as compared with strategy consulting.

Is that a reflection on banks prefering to hire from the US programs or would Insead be a good move for a big 4 consultant looking to do an MBA to move sectors?

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01/07/2008 22:37

Chris to anon (#6)

Mars a Day,

Thanks for your post. You made a great point by saying that I should put cost issues aside. As you suggested, short-term cash-flow positions are not relevant over the long term. Although the difference between €100k and €200k is somehow significant (the difference between INSEAD and Wharton for instance) I think is not that relevant. It's sort of difficult not to have it present!


As you well pointed out, looking at the info they provide on their website, very few people go to IB. Luckily it is not where I want to work. I've been told that big strategy houses are more willing to finance MBAs in INSEAD because it has a very good curriculum combined with a short duration. That is why I believe that those figures can be a bit inflated in a sense (those who join Mck, BCG, Bain, are ex-MBBs). I am not sure though.


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02/07/2008 11:06

EvilConsultant to Chris (#7)

INSEAD has an excellent reputation and is consistently in the top ten of many rankings. I'm fairly sure that you could get a job with a bulge bracket IB or one of the reputable consultancies with few problems; however there are other things to consider.

Much like other organisations, schools have their own culture and feel. You should verify that you fit in with the culture (or at least feel like you can tolerate it) as you're going to be spending a lot of time with your classmates.

Personally, I didn't like the look of INSEAD on the grounds that it has over 900 participants per class. A little big for my taste personally, but your milage may vary.


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03/07/2008 10:20

annonymous to EvilConsultant (#8)

The other key data to consider I would suggest is the true added value on a discounted cash flow, inflation indexed basis for past students at each business school. This is after all what it is really all about. Many business schools keep this particular data concealed or do not maintain it when they determine how bad the figures actually make them look. By the way this particular data has no relation whatsoever to the usual parameters by which business schools are rated in ranking tables! It is the one parameter which is usually ignored because so few show a true yield.

To clarify: what you have to do is look at the average remuneration package (total) of entrants prior to graduation, add their total course and incidental costs plus living costs over the course duration, plus the loss of earnings over the course duration and compare that total cost on a true discounted cash flow, inflation indexed basis with the average increase in annual remuneration package achieved over the two years immediately following graduation with the MBA to show the true added value. This is thus the true inflation corrected return on investment, and only the very best business schools will show any true ROI on this basis. Most will give you a markedly negative ROI. Clearly the business schools where the average age of course entrants is lower will tend be statistically skewed in this respect.

This is what indicates whether or not it is worth doing an MBA at a particular business school. Many courses evaluated on this basis will not even show a true ROI after 5 or 6 years. In any case it is impossible to know what the subsequent salaries of individuals achieving an MBA would have been years later if they had not obtained one, so this will always distort the real supposed yield in any case? (Some people of course despite the facts decide that they want to do the MBA for the experience alone. That's fine if you have your eyes wide open and understand that you are pouring a whole lot of your own money away for no real yield. However, particularly after completing your MBA you would not make any other investment on the same loss-making basis, so you would subsequently see your decision in retrospect to be significantly flawed. The most important thing is to properly consider what it is you desire to achieve and objectively determine whether an MBA from a particular business school will help you achieve that. Also consider that most of the truly successful people in all sectors of business do not have an MBA. That must actually mean rather a lot, namely that there is no absolute correlation between having an MBA from one of the best business schools and becoming successful in your field! If you have the ability and good fortune you can achieve it without an MBA.)

Finally, before you finalize your decision, read Steven Silbiger's "The 10 Day MBA" (Piatkus). He quite correctly surmises that an intelligent well-educated person can assimilate within 10 days the key knowledge which will be gained by spending so much money and time doing an MBA from any of the top US business schools, including Wharton, Harvard and North-Western. As one who wasted the time and money like him I entirely concur with his conclusions.

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03/07/2008 11:10

---- to annonymous (#9)

Personally, I think MBAs are for insecure suckers. All they lead to is a huge debt and a life of hard grind in the corporate world (if you want to earn back the money you spent on the MBA, that is). You're better off having a balanced approach to life, having a decent paying job with reasonable hours, emotionally stable colleagues and a decent home life, than a 'crash and burn' stint in some huge corporation where you'll be surrounded by ultra-competitive, backstabbing, poker-faced robots and will never get to see the outside world (except for a few weeks each year).

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03/07/2008 11:42

anon to ---- (#10)

What's the alternative though?

I'm working for one of the big full service consultancies and delivering IT projects until I die would kill me. MBA is a good way to open up doors to more interesting and lucrative careers.

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03/07/2008 12:20

---- to anon (#11)

Re-structure your CV so that it focuses less on the technical bits and more on the business elements of what you have done. Be creative but truthful with how you describe what you did (you may be surprised how much project management, costing/investment analysis, process improvement etc you have done if you think about it). Apply for the roles you do want and emphasise your transferable skills. And find a good agent who will actually sell you and your transferable abilities to their client, as opposed to a tick-box merchant who can't see the wood for the trees and might as well be replaced by some kind of keyword search engine.

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03/07/2008 13:50

Lucifer to ---- (#12)

It's a tough one. The ROI calculation described above (I've not run the figures myself but assume it's accurate) suggests that, in the market as a whole, MBAs are not actually valued that highly (otherwise the additional incentive would pay off the investment). However, a lot of people have the feeling that without an MBA their career progression will be stunted. I think this is particularly the case in consulting as compared to the wider business world.

Ultimately, the value of the MBA is determined by the market and it is difficult to escape the worry that even if you polish your CV, someone who polishes their CV and adds an MBA will be advantaged.

What I would say is that you shouldn't underestimate how much you can do without an MBA, how much experience you can gain in the same time, and how big an effect taking time out of the workplace in order to study has. When you do an MBA, not only are you unable to spend that 12-24 months building experience and demonstrating your ability but you also lose momentum. Your progression in the job you hold in the year prior to the MBA is curtailed because few organisations will give promotions or responsibilities to someone they know is leaving (even if the organisation is sponsoring the MBA and expects you to return, it doesn't help them for you to take on a new role then step out of it for an extended period). Subsequent to your MBA, you have to re-enter the workplace and get up to speed with a step change in role (if you aren't returning to the same job), and you aren't in a great position to excel for a while.

For disclosure, I do not hold an MBA. However, I did my undergrad degree at a high-ranked MBA business school and meet with MBA grads at our alumni events. In terms of conversation, people's job levels, and presentational skills, it is very difficult for people to distinguish which alumni hold an MBA, which a BSc (and which hold no degree but attended an executive programme at some point). My point is that these alumni events are not a bad proxy for typical interview scenario (and given how many jobs are won via referrals, this is in fact a typical interview scenario) - having completed an MBA has not detectably improved those job candidates' stock or relevant work experience, apparent knowledge or intelligence, etc. Beyond potentially helping a cold-sourced candidate get through the door, I don't see that the MBA advantages these candidates particularly.

I'm by no means a high-flyer, but I've been asked on more than one occassion by MBA grads how I managed to get the job I now hold without an MBA, having graduated at the same time as they did. The simple reason is that in the two and a half years they spent out of the workforce, (due to time commitments to GMAT preparation, MBA applications, the MBA itself, and job hunting) I continued doing my job, took the promotions and opportunities that came my way, and built two and a half years of experience and reputation.

Certainly, the baseline for success in the business world has moved up from a good set of A-levels to a Bachelor-level degree, but I don't see that the MBA is anywhere near that level of significance (per the number of Directors and those in the tier below who hold the qualification). In fact, whilst there has been recent talk in the UK of Masters degrees becoming necessary to mark out graduates, the wider trend globally and especially in Europe is to standardise on the Bachelors and get graduates into the workplace earlier.

For the foreseeable future, non-MBA Masters will remain for academics and MBAs will remain relevant for people moving into business or changing direction within it.

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03/07/2008 16:06

Chris to Lucifer (#13)

Thank you all for the information.

I completely agree with those that argue that, from a purely financial point of view, the majority of MBA programs are not worth your time and money. In this thread, I am just considering top 5 business schools. I know that a full-time MBA from a second-tier school is a horrible decision. However, I believe that it is not just about money itself. An MBA can be very useful to open new doors, to improve your network, and, above all, it can be a very useful learning experience, if you know how to make the most of it.

In my case, I am working as a financial consultant in a large consulting firm. Loads of international experience and so on. I have always wanted to do an MBA at some point, and I believe I am ready now, although I am not sure about whether it is the best move. I know I don't have to do an MBA to progress within my firm, but I definitely believe that an MBA from a top 5 school opens so many doors and gives you a lot of diverse opportunities.

More precisely, I would like to work for an international organization (UN, IMF or World Bank) and I know that, with my background, an MBA is almost a must if one wants to switch careers.

Any suggestions to switch careers without taking an MBA?



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04/07/2008 02:58

FPS to Chris (#14)

For those organisations, an MPA would be useful and would help you stand out. Or you could do a Masters in International Development e.g. at IDPM, Kennedy, Georgetown, etc. especially if you don;t have sector knowledge alrady.

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05/07/2008 14:03

anon to FPS (#15)

Any idea what the social side is like at Insead?

US schools look a lot more fun...

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06/07/2008 12:44

anon to anon (#16)

If you're looking for a social life, why not try the University of Lincoln?

Or maybe Club Med.

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