I’m going to start this off with a disclaimer. I haven’t done my MBA abroad. I’m a student at IIM Bangalore right now, so I do know how it works here, to an extent. However, I have studied in New York for my bachelors, and the attitude and life abroad are things that I can attest to. Having also taken a course with Harvard Business School, I can also tell you a tiny bit about the teaching style. Any indication of life at MBA schools abroad is info from folks whom I know have gone to B-school outside India.
Okay, let’s dive right in. Putting it in perspective, the top 3 B-schools of India, IIMs A, B and C, are ranked in roughly the top forty B-schools globally. ISB ranks higher than the others, in the top thirty or twenty-five. The top five B-schools are usually a toss-up between Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, Wharton, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern and London Business School.
The biggest difference is probably age. While there is only a marginal weightage in India for work experience, globally, work experience is considered almost mandatory. If someone is at a B-school with absolutely no work experience, they are likely exceptional, with prodigy-level intellect, or a startup under their belt. As a result, the average work experience at these places is north of 4 years. Compare that to India, where the average work experience is around 3 years for most B-schools, with a wider spread. There is a good reason for this. With greater work experience, it is easier to relate to the concepts and methods being taught, and it is said that you take away more from the MBA Experience. In India, this difference is marginal, because the system is used to taking freshers, and as such, the education is tailored to accommodate them.
The second big difference is classroom methods. Outside of India, the classroom is where you learn the most. The dependence on textbooks is supplementary, and more often than not, just for reference. Participating and actively engaging in the classroom is how you predominantly learn, leaving you with more time to do other things with your time. Here’s the fun part - exams aren’t that common. At higher levels of education, the dependence on exams reduces. Instead, you learn by submitting assignments, projects and presentations, which require reasonably significant effort and in-depth understanding of the topics.
The third aspect to touch on is the attitude of people there. The attitude is less competitive, and more collaborative. While in India, it’s a rat race to an extent, out there, it’s all about teamwork, and making sure people are getting the most out of their two years. It’s about actively doing things outside of the syllabus, and it isn’t uncommon to help someone else out with their assignment so that they can finish researching a paper that they want to publish in a journal.
Now, while it may seem that I’m all for studying abroad, bear in mind that I came back to do my MBA here. A major reason for that is connections. While I might have made some amazing connections abroad, the connections I need to succeed in India can only be made here. In order to survive and thrive in India, immersing yourself back in the country’s way of doing things is important. It’s also easier to get in as a fresher (like I am) and succeed in India.
This may seem surprising, but the language barrier is actually a big deal. The standard of education is very different. While in India, we focus on technicals to the extent of forgetting about everything else, the soft skills take precedence abroad. The level of communication skills is significantly higher abroad, and similar expectations are placed on students. It’s up to you to improve yourself, but it will take a lot of effort - effort that isn’t required in India.
Expenses are a huge flip side abroad! An MBA in the US costs about US $250,000, for tuition alone. That’s ₹1.8 crores. IIMB tuition is 25 lacs. It is about 7 times more expensive (and it gets worse if the dollar strengthens or the rupee weakens)! That’s a lot of money, even for people living abroad. More often than not, companies sponsor MBAs, making it easier, but a lot of people end up paying off that debt for a very long time. Living expenses will be proportionally more expensive, depending on where you are, and don’t get me started on flight tickets.
Something else to consider is the political landscape. I won’t go into this, but do your research, and think about how it will affect you. Universities are incredibly politically involved almost anywhere in the world, primarily due to the presence of incredibly knowledgable and influential people at said universities, so you should take a stand on how involved you will be. Bear in mind that while the same amount of political influences exists at B-schools in India, the effect on students is severely trickled down.
After all this, if you still want to go abroad, and you think you can survive there, what do you need to do? Well, first up, take the GMAT. GMAT scores are recognised for five years, so you can take it, work for a while, and then apply. You might also need to take the TOEFL, depending on the college’s requirements. Each college has its own application (and fee, unfortunately), so check out what they need. Everyone will ask you for your Statement of Purpose, and letters of recommendation. These are crucial aspects of your application. Spend time on your SoP, get it checked over. Make sure that you are absolutely crystal clear about why you’re going there. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. Many people write over twenty drafts of their SoPs, over a period of months. Get it right, it's the difference between a successful and unsuccessful application.
If you’re in your final year of college now, I strongly recommend checking out Harvard’s 2+2 program. It’s aimed at STEM majors, and gives you a guaranteed admission into Harvard without work experience of any kind. It delays your admission by 2-3 years so you can gain the work experience, but you apply for jobs with Harvard on your resume, it’s a pretty good sell. Application date is April of the year you graduate, so get started and apply ASAP! If you have some more time, well, reach out to the colleges you're interested in and let them know that you're interested! It'll show that you're doing your research, and that's a great way to make a nice first impression.
Above all, be honest. I know, I know, it sounds so clichéd, but it’s true. Honesty and frankness shine, and separate you from everyone else. They’re hard to do, especially when nerves kick in, but those two things will drive you to the top, and will help you retain your individuality in a place with a completely different culture. Good luck, and may the force be with you!