International components now are “fairly ubiquitous” in MBA programs

BY Jason ArmestoSeptember 03, 2021, 2:00 AM
Martin Laksman

As the world has become increasingly globalized, so too have business schools. MBA programs across the country offer international opportunities for students looking to expand their horizons, regardless of whether or not they plan to pursue a career overseas.

International MBA opportunities are not a new phenomenon, but in the past students often had to really narrow their search if they were determined to attend a school with global aspects. That has certainly changed in the 21st century, as the curriculum for the MBA degree has gone global. 

“Twenty or 25 years ago, it was extremely rare for an MBA program to have it be mandatory or part of the core curriculum,” says Jason Garner, director of graduate admissions at American University’s Kogod School of Business. “And now it’s fairly ubiquitous.” 

Whether or not an MBA candidate should target their school search based on what international components a program offers is a matter of personal preference, but admissions directors do see value in taking advantage of global exposure. 

Why B-schools offer international opportunities 

Full-time MBA programs have long attracted international students, but Americans are increasingly looking to study abroad to get a global perspective—and it may not just be students with international career aspirations.

“The word ‘international’ is essential to how the world of business operates today,” says Angel Burgos, the executive director of MBA programs for the Chapman School of Business at Florida International University. “I don’t think I know of a school that doesn’t have some element of international within their business school, because it’s so critical to be successful these days.”

Essentially, business schools offer global opportunities as a response to the business world being global. 

“Nearly every business school is offering some sort of international immersive component,” Garner adds. “What’s really driving that is that it’s just much more likely now that there’s going to be some kind of international component to your job.”

Why students should take advantage 

For students aiming to work overseas or for a multinational corporation, the advantages of doing an MBA with some sort of international flavor are clear enough. But what about students who are focused on a domestic career? 

“A lot of MBA students realize, ‘Even if I work for a small company and it’s based in a small town in the U.S., it’s very likely that at some point there’s going to be an international component to my business,’” Garner says, adding that some programs are more global than others. “‘Maybe we’re not selling things internationally but we may be sourcing things internationally, or we might have vendors or clients that are international.’” 

By getting some international exposure while still in school, MBA students can give themselves an edge over competitors in the recruitment process—such as learning how the legal issues of starting a business in a foreign country compare to those in the U.S. or experiencing other cultural norms. For instance, Garner notes that the concept of “being on time” can vary from one culture to another, and that in some countries entrepreneurs will want to get to know you first before diving into business deals. 

Experiencing these lessons while in school can brace MBA grads for the culture shock of working internationally for the first time. 

“To understand and thrive in business, students need to understand the theory and practice of managing people and organizations in a global business context,” says Brad Killaly, associate dean for full-time and global MBA programs at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. 

Finding an international opportunity that fits your needs

With so many business schools now offering some sort of international avenue, MBA candidates can target those programs that would best serve their career goals. If someone is determined to work overseas or with a multinational corporation, then they may be attracted to an international MBA program, like the one at Florida International University. 

The 12-month accelerated program boasts international faculty and international students, allows students to study or intern overseas, and has an international element in every course. 

The full-time MBA at the Kogod School of Business requires that students do a global consulting immersion at the end of their first year, wherein they telework with an internationally based client and eventually travel abroad to present deliverables in-person. 

While Kogod and FIU’s Chapman School are both located in highly international hubs (Washington, D.C., and Miami, respectively), students do not need to be in coastal cities to gain global exposure. 

In Ann Arbor, for instance, the 15-month Michigan Ross global MBA is designed to build management and business competencies while enhancing global leadership experiences. This includes approaching projects with both a global perspective and field study course that gives students an understanding of business and cultural customs in another country. 

Even if you don’t want an MBA with an international focus, you could consider other opportunities like a study abroad program or global internships. The Michigan Ross full-time MBA, for example, offers global immersion and semester exchange programs for those people interested in gaining some international experience. 

“International experiences provide students with the opportunity to build their global business skills and knowledge,” says Killaly.

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.