At one time there were two relatively distinct models of MBA education. The American model differed from the European on several grounds:

One Year MBA Two Years MBA
1 Primary Driver Industry Connections Professorial Research
2 Course Focus Global or European American
3 Skills Emphasized Soft Skills Quantitative
4 Student Body Mixed (but largely European) Largely American
5 Selection Criteria Emphasized Work Experience and Success Test Scores, Grades
6 Age of Students Late-Twenties or older Mid-Twenties

There were other differences too, although this chart covers the major issues. Moreover, not all programs fit the predominant pattern in either case. In the United States, Thunderbird was (and still remains) very similar to the European programs, with its global focus, emphasis upon languages, and the like. In Europe, London Business School, Manchester Business School, and IESE (Barcelona) were (and remain) a mixture of the American and European models—a “mid-Atlantic” model, perhaps.

The differences between the two models have blurred in recent years as the American programs in particular have made substantial changes. Most, if not all, of the top American programs have greatly increased the role of such “soft skills” as leadership, negotiation, and teamwork. Related to this, they have tried to improve their connections to industry, to make their courses more relevant and less driven by professorial interest (some would say whim), and also to benefit from being able to place students as interns undertaking projects for companies. They have also worked hard to examine the issues in managing in a global environment, although they generally lag behind the top European programs in this regard. The American programs have sought people with more work experience, rather than those who have only academic credentials. Some things have remained the same, however; most American programs remain resolutely two years long. The European schools have changed less, although the leading programs in particular, such as INSEAD (outside Paris) and Rotterdam, have joined London Business School in incorporating a more quantitative focus to their programs.

The old stereotypes—American schools are intellectually rigorous but their graduates lack managerial and interpersonal skills, whereas European schools produce fine managers who understand the languages and cultural context of different countries but lack substantive skills—clearly no longer apply. But before dismissing the issue, it should be said that some of the old differences between American and European programs remain. American schools still spend a majority of course time on American cases and issues, whereas European schools do not focus so heavily on any one country. American student bodies are still largely American (only 20 to 45 percent come from other countries), whereas few leading European schools have more than a substantial minority from their home countries. IMD Switzerland, last year, had only one Swiss citizen in its 100 strong batch.


Some European one-year programs, divided into four terms, have three terms of teaching with a compulsory project in the fourth (last) term. Others offer taught courses for the entire year.
Cambridge is an example of the former approach. Its twelve-month program begins with a two-week orientation, after which the year is divided into four terms:

Term I:

  • Management Practice
  • Corporate Finance and Analysis of Financial Accounts
  • Marketing
  • Organisations, Behaviour, and the Management of People
  • Management Analysis: Data, Decisions, and Risk
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Entrepreneurship Consulting Project

Term II:

  • International Business and Management
  • Operations, Information Systems, and Management Accounting
  • Strategy
  • One Elective
  • Major Consulting Project

Term III:

  • Information Technology and Information Dynamics
  • Corporate Governance and Ethics
  • Four Electives

Term IV:

  • Individual Project

Sixteen courses are required to graduate (along with the three consulting projects), with eleven required courses and five electives. This approximately 2-to-1 ratio of required-to-elective courses is about average for the one-year programs, although several leading schools offer almost no choice of electives, with all courses being set, essentially—and no waivers or options available. The shortness of the program and the consequent high percentage of required versus elective courses differ from the longer American pro-grams.

The advantages and disadvantages of attending a European school as described below are based upon one-year programs. Those interested in the two-year programs at such schools as London and IESE are advised to use this list with caution, and to consider the above pros and cons regarding American two-year programs as well.

Advantages of a Traditional Full-Time One Year Program as compared to other methods of obtaining an MBA
  • Excellent peer learning as the average age of the students is higher and the student body is rich in diversity.
  • The internationalism of the top programs, especially regarding the mix of nationalities in the student body, is remarkable. This is a Truly Global MBA.
  • For those with substantial business experience, one year may be all that is necessary to broaden horizons and improve skills.
  • Good industry connections mean that the best schools do very well in placing their students.
  • The time spent away from ones career is limited.
  • Emphasis is placed upon learning languages.
  • Teaching of soft skills is often superb.
Disdvantages of a Traditional Full-Time One Year Program as compared to other methods of obtaining an MBA
  • The underlying presumption that students have substantial business experience means that some of the introductory courses move at too fast a pace for novices.
  • A one-year program is too short for some to develop enough new skills and contacts to make dramatic career shifts.
  • Some programs are too small or too structured to offer much choice of electives.
  • Some programs do not force students to acquire substantial quantitative skills, requiring a conscious choice of quantitative elective courses in order to develop these skills.
  • There is little time for career reflection or exploring career options.

The European model is attractive to those who intend to work in Europe or for European companies. As with the leading U.S. schools, leading European schools offer worldwide employment opportunities and first-class learning environments. Top American firms that operate worldwide, such as the management consulting and financial service firms, are also among the top recruiters of students from European Business Schools.

The reasons to go for a European program are not realized by aspirants because fewer and fewer applicants can correctly assume that their careers will lack international dimensions, whether that means working abroad, working for a foreign company in the United States, managing foreign employees, or competing against foreign companies.

Several American schools have also initiated programs that mirror the one-year feature common to European MBAs. Kellogg offers a four-quarter program to those with undergraduate degrees in business or comparable experience. The Kellogg way to a One Year MBA is a Stereotypical 2 Year MBA without the Core Courses covered in first year – Introduction to Statistics, Finance, Economics, Marketing, Operations and Financial Accounting. Moreover, while the Two Year students do their internships, you cover up the required courses. This means that at Kellogg, the four-quarter-program students condense the whole of the regular program’s first year into a summer of study, then join the six-quarter program students for the “second-year” of elective courses.

Johnson (Cornell) offers a one-year program for scientists and engineers switching into management. In each case, the entering group is expected to be able to study the introductory material at an accelerated pace.

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