Despite a sluggish economy, the MBA is still the hottest degree in the United States. Top universities have shown more than a 20% increase in the number of applicants to their programs. UCLA, UNC and Georgetown University are boasting enormous increases in demand for their programs, mostly due to a seemingly wealthy pool of applicants who are looking to take advantage of the improvements in the US economy. These programs are aided by the improving employment situation, where 60% of students in full-time two-year MBA programs have landed jobs. As an international student in a US MBA program, it takes a lot more work and planning to create your success in the American job market.
While most US MBA graduates find work quickly, they don’t benefit financially (at least not immediately). An MBA from Harvard offers less than a $10,000 increase in immediate post-MBA salary, according to The Economist. The reason the top tier programs provide so little immediate return is that the cost of the program and their salaries are already both very high, since top tier programs admit a lot of high level executives. In a 2014 survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) on Alumni Perspectives, 26% of alumni report their expectations for recouping their financial investment were exceeded and 53% say their expectations for return on their investment (ROI) were met. GMAC is the firm provides the GMAT exam – the standard entry test to most top schools.
Before diving into the US Market as an international student, it’s important to understand what the market is doing for the US students and graduates. The MBA is still viewed by most students and graduates as an entry into the management ranks. Four out of five business school alumni currently work for an employer. The dream of moving up to the corner office is still very much alive. But GMAC’s report seems to indicate that graduates may be slowly waking up from the dream and viewing the MBA as a tool for achieving more independence in their career. For example, while recent graduates (2010 - 2013) are more likely to be working for an employer, the likelihood of an alumni being an entrepreneur or self-employed increases the longer they have been out of business school. Nearly one quarter (about 23%) of professionals who graduated before 1990 are business owners today.
More recent graduates seem to have their own idea for how to move into management positions or entrepreneurship faster than their predecessors. Of these graduates, 13% are employed in the consulting industry, as compared to 6 to 10% of those graduating classes before them. The consulting industry, for which the US has over 250,000 firms, is traditionally among the largest employers of the top MBA graduates. It’s an industry that allows graduates the opportunity to assume a large degree of responsibility right out of school and quickly learn the many issues of the business world. After a few years in consulting, graduates transition to leadership roles in other companies or they start their own.
Even though business is booming for academia, it doesn’t necessarily translate into massive opportunity after graduation, especially for international students. According to the Career Services and the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, MBA employment is not expected to be any better than in 2013. It is important to note that currently there are an increasing number of MBA applicants in a US employment market that is not growing to meet it. Competition for those American jobs will be much greater than in past years.
The biggest challenge for international students seeking an American MBA is finding employment after graduation. GMAC indicates that roughly 87% of international students who come to the US for business school have hopes of getting a job in the US. International MBAs most commonly seek a H-1B visa, which are limited to 65,000 per year for the general population, plus an additional 20,000 for those with US advanced degrees. Now consider that in 2012, there were 472,000 students in US Business Schools, for which international students comprised 13%, according to the US Department of Education. This implies that there are far more students than visas available. Despite this insurmountable barrier to employment, international applications continue to grow at US business schools. It’s unlikely that applicants will be deterred from submitting their applications, as US programs are beginning to seek greater diversity in their programs. Remember, US MBA programs have an international diversity of only about 30% in each class, which is considerably lower than most of the top international MBA programs.
International MBA students should consider several methods for obtaining employment in the US. First, internships are critical to full time employment and past research has shown that 53% of international students who help internships received full time offers after graduation. Second, they should work with their university career centers to identify companies that have sponsored H-1B visas in the past. These companies aren’t intimidated by the immigration requirements and will consider hiring internationals students. It’s likely that many of these sponsoring companies today are big companies, as small companies hiring trends are on the decline. International graduates must also learn to promote themselves and communicate a valuable personal brand to employers. While it’s important to have good grades and even better credentials, the ability to sell yourself in a capitalistic society is far more valuable.
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