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Get that MBA from the USA

Published on Thursday, 28 Jun 2012
Hong Kong is the sixth-biggest source of students in business and management programmes at US universities, such as Harvard (above).
Photo: Bloomberg
Debra Ringold

Over the past 100 years, the United States has risen to become the world’s undisputed economic and political superpower. The country’s dominance in the fields of science, technology and medical innovation has been equally stark, bringing us everything from the moon landings to social networks.

This success has been built on a higher-education system that boasted eight of the top 10 universities in the 2010 Academic Ranking of World Universities, or Shanghai ranking. Generously funded and with a strong research ethos, US institutions continue to be highly popular with students and teaching staff from around the world – not least among those engaged in business education.

The appeal of American MBA, DBA and EMBA programmes to potential applicants in Hong Kong is reflected in the results of the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2011 study. This showed that, among overseas students in business and management programmes in the US, the sixth-greatest number came from the city.

Following two years spent working for Morgan Stanley’s Hong Kong operation, 27-year-old Jimmy Weng entered the MBA programme at Harvard Business School (HBS). After graduating last year, he returned to Hong Kong and now works as an assistant portfolio manager for ICBC-Credit Suisse Asset Management.

Weng speaks enthusiastically of his time at HBS and cites several reasons why anyone wishing to follow a similar career path should consider pursuing an American MBA programme.

“The first advantage is the strength of the alumni base. There are roughly 900 graduates from HBS each year entering various fields, with some partnering to start their own businesses. That network and those connections become invaluable post-graduation for everything from adjusting to a new city, learning about a new industry, or closing a major deal,” says Weng.

“Another major advantage is the new opportunities that present themselves in MBA programmes. A number of employers host small group events and dinners with students, and they become great networking opportunities.

“I had met the senior management team at ICBC-Credit Suisse Asset Management during their visit to HBS last year, and joined them after several rounds of interviews.

“Finally, the reputation and brand of a US MBA programme is a rare commodity that carries higher prestige here in Asia than it does elsewhere. Credibility and reputation is quite essential and important in this competitive market.”

Dr Debra J Ringold, dean of the MBA faculty, and JELD-WEN Endowed Chair in Free Enterprise, at Oregon’s Willamette University, offers figures supporting this view.

“In the Willamette MBA, 85 per cent of the graduating class of 2011 received at least one job offer within 90 days after graduation, at an average starting salary of about US$60,000,” she says.

And these offers were shared between both home-grown and overseas graduates. “Typically, between 30 to 35 per cent of our incoming class of about 100 is comprised of students from countries other than the US,” says Ringold.

Angel Lau, of the government-funded body Education USA, says scholarships or subsidies are available to help cover costs. These include fellowships through the MBA programme, need- or merit-based scholarships via the business school, private grants from foundations or non-profit organisations, and employer-sponsorship or loan-forgiveness programmes.

At Willamette, “merit-based scholarships are available to international students and range from 10 to 100 per cent of their tuition fees”, Ringold says.

“International students are also allowed to work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the first year of the MBA programme,” she adds. “This includes graduate assistantships and other on-campus employment. And Willamette MBA students have the rare opportunity to participate in up to three semesters of approved internship experiences.”

Ringold adds that, along with potential internships, the multitude of business, government and not-for-profit organisations located in Oregon also provide job and networking opportunities to Willamette MBA students.
When it comes to the entry requirements for American MBA programmes, an undergraduate background in business is not required. However, says Lau, “students who have taken business courses may be exempt from some of the core requirements at graduate level”.

“Most schools will also require students to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which measures verbal, analytical reasoning, and mathematical skills,” she continues. “And international students should also take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).”

Furthermore, most US graduate business schools require students to have full-time work experience.

Beyond the attractiveness of Willamette’s academic and professional programme, and the pull of an English-speaking environment, the university’s home state of Oregon offers everything from ski resorts to Pacific-coast beaches.

However, Ringold points out that “students from Hong Kong experience the same challenges faced by all international students – learning about and adjusting to a new culture and surroundings, as well as acclimatising to a new style of learning – one that is much more active and team-oriented than perhaps they are used to in their home country”.

But, according to Weng, the positives far outweigh the negatives. “Many people talk about MBA programmes in the US as being too expensive or too time-consuming. But this is an investment in yourself and your return is spread out over a lifetime. The knowledge and experience you get there becomes invaluable.” 

 

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