One of our jobs as admissions consultants is to anticipate new angles and opportunities for our applicants and one that we have been sharing with our clients this year is the idea of looking more aggressively to MBA programs in the EU. We have seen clients find better fits, enjoy some great results, and go on to be incredibly happy in European business schools (granted, they just started, but still), all after initially not even considering the possibility. Let's break down why this is emerging as an ideal market, at least for our clients (and you can then determine if this also applies to you): 1. Program diversity. One of the great things about the slate of EU programs is that despite there not being quite as many top-flight MBA options as there are in the U.S., the options that do exist are quite a bit more varied in terms of basic things like program structure and thrust. From the "work hard, play hard" vibe of INSEAD (we have a free How to Apply to INSEAD guide that you should check out) to the very academic and intellectual environments at Oxford and Cambridge to the finance-heavy focus at LBS to the industrial slant at IMD, there are distinctly different perspectives forwarded at each institution. This is to say nothing of program length (so many different options here), secondary language preferences, or even job placement distinctions. It seems that every time we talk to a client with U.S. aspirations, there comes a point where we jointly discover that an EU program is the best fit of all. This then leads to a golden opportunity, because of Point #2.
2. Opportunity for Admission. It goes without saying that no matter how awesome a program is, that only matters if an applicant can get in. We are finding that our EU clients are getting in, over and over and over again. Part of this has to do with zigging while most are zagging. For the same reason that Booth is a better "buying opportunity" than Stern (due to the latter having almost 2,000 more applications just for being in a cooler neighborhood), many EU programs offer a less crowded field. However, we think that the reason for our clients' successes goes deeper than that. Most notably, it seems to reflect the primary focus among *admissions consultants* more than even applicants. In our experience, few consultants have a real, dynamic handle on the EU programs - some don't even try. This is in large part because there are only so many hours in the day and so many resources to spend, but also because it's harder to visit schools abroad and have them visit us (in the form of fairs, conferences, dinners, and the like). Many firms or individual consultants make a business decision to just not deal with it. Some give it lip service, but if you talk to them for an hour, you will quickly realize they don't know more than what is on a school's Wikipedia page. The overall impact of this is that very few clients are getting top-notch help with European MBA programs and let's face it, that means there are fewer high quality applications being submitted to those schools. By zeroing in on EU schools as a priority for us (partly because we have a very international mix of clients, partly because we love what some of these schools are about), we have been able to give our clients the same level of help on INSEAD, LBS, Oxford, Cambridge, IESE, HEC Paris, IMD, and others that we give them on HBS, Stanford, or Wharton. With a tiny percentage of the overall applicante pool forwarding that kind of quality, it seems that our clients are really standing out - for understanding the DNA of the school, for forwarding great, structured essays, and for nailing the key themes that are important. In short: if you can put a fantastic application together that is of the same quality that you would submit to a top 5 U.S. program, you will enjoy a lot more visibility and, in effect, "stand out" far more than you would in that equivalent U.S. program ... just because of application quality alone.
3. Longer Applications. Never fear the chance to tell a school what you are all about. HBS and other U.S. programs are busy trying to shorten the essay sets and are, in effect, cutting the legs out from under applicants by making it harder to share dimensions of their personality (rightly or wrongly is not really our place to decide, but you can probably guess how we feel about it). Meanwhile, most EU programs have retained their "charmingly long" essay sets, which means a lot of work for the applicant (and the consultant, for that matter), but a true opportunity to shine. A short set of essays can surely be very difficult (some of our best work this year has been helping people navigate the microscopic HBS set), but a long set challenges you to showcase all the key themes, create synergy throughout, and hit fit and program DNA. All while telling powerful stories that are easy to read, of course. Frankly, we love EU applications. Challenge equals opportunity, for consultants and applicants alike. Seven essay questions at INSEAD? Bring it on!
All told, if you find yourself feeling daunted by the selective schools in the U.S., or if you are reapplying (maybe even a third time), or you just can't find programs that feel like great fits for you, take a long look at programs in Europe, as you might just find some golden opportunities.
For those interested in setting up a free consultation - to discuss EU prospects or any other programs - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to download our free How to Apply to INSEAD guide to see how we break down programs to the core elements.