Western Europe Inches Closer to U.S. in Competition for International Candidates

Survey data reveal which aspects of each study destination international candidates find appealing.

Sep 8, 2016

Recruitment & Marketing

MBA candidate travels abroad to earn her degree The United States and Western Europe have long been the top preferred study destinations for prospective business school candidates who aspire to attend a school outside of their country of citizenship. Although the results of the 2016 mba.com Prospective Students Survey show that the United States remains the preferred study destination of the majority of internationally minded candidates, the share of these candidates preferring Western Europe is trending upward. 

In 2009, 59 percent of business school candidates seeking to study abroad selected the United States as their first choice of study location. In 2015, that share of candidates dropped five percentage points to 54 percent. Over the same six-year period, the share of aspiring international students who preferred Western Europe as a study destination rose from 27 percent to 30 percent. 

Though these changes are relatively small, they speak to the larger trend of internationalization of quality business schools observed over the last decade. In 2004, 76 percent of full-time MBA programs ranked in the top 50 of the Financial Times’ Global MBA Ranking were located in North America. In the 2016 FT rankings, just 42 percent of the top 50 programs were North American. Over the same period, the share of European programs in the top 50 grew from 24 percent to 36 percent. For international candidates seeking entry to highly selective full-time MBA programs, the FT rankings suggest that there are more high-quality options in Europe than ever before. 

A closer examination of data collected through the 2016 mba.com Prospective Students Survey reveals some specific reasons why international candidates prefer one destination over the other. For example, those who prefer Western Europe as a study destination are more likely to cite the attractiveness of the location as a reason for their preference (51% of candidates) compared with candidates who prefer the United States (40%). Candidates who prefer Western Europe are also more likely than those preferring the United States to cite affordability and opportunities for English language education as reasons for their choice of location. Candidates who are targeting U.S. study opportunities are more likely than those preferring Western Europe to cite the reputation of the education system, preparation for their career, and access to jobs in their home country among their reasons for their location preference.

Going abroad for b-school

For more data and insights related to international candidates study preferences, download the 2016 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report at gmac.com/prospectivestudents.