If you’re considering enrolling in an MBA program, you may be wondering whether to study in the U.S. or in India. But what are the major differences between the programs in each country? Will you be able to choose the same subjects and specializations in either place?
The short answer is that MBA programs in the U.S and India vary quite a bit. Although both U.S. and Indian business schools can lead to a high-quality degree, each county places an emphasis on a different side of business education.
Programs in India have more of a focus on specialization, while those in the U.S. tend to be more generalized – particularly the top 15 US MBA programs. So, which country you should choose to study in depends on what sort of specializations you want to focus on and where you want to work after graduation.
General Management Vs. Specialization
A General Management MBA will prepare you for work in any kind of industry and function; some would call it a “jack-of-all-trades” degree that gives you a broad set of business skills.
A specialized MBA helps you prepare for a particular function, such as Finance, Marketing, or Supply Chain.
The top 5 specializations in India are:
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
Ideally, a specialization should give you additional skills in your chosen field, but not at the expense of a generalized business education.
Why Do U.S. Schools Offer General Management Programs?
Most students in the U.S. take a generalized MBA course, and those that do specialize often do not choose a focus until the second year of the program. Some European schools, such as the IE Business School in Madrid, refuse to offer specializations at all.
There’s a lot of debate over whether or not specializations are part of a trend toward less useful “niche” degrees. Some programs are very specific (such as Bordeaux’s “Wine MBA”), which can limit a student’s exposure to more interdisciplinary subjects.
Many experts argue that these programs are too specialized, and that the point of an MBA is to be able to learn about a variety of industries and understand the connections between them.
A General Management graduate may be better suited to adjust to changes in an industry, or move between jobs in different fields. They are also likely be well-suited to mid-level positions because they can see the big picture and lead a team of specialists successfully.
According to the Princeton Review, the most popular MBAs in the U.S. are:
- General Management
- International Management
So even the more “specialized” degrees tend to be pretty broad and less focused on a particular industry than the specialized degrees in India.
Action-Based MBAs & Schools that Offer Them
One way that schools are adapting to today’s industry landscape is to offer an “action-based MBA,” which takes more of an experiential approach to education. Rather than studying only through lectures or case studies from the comfort of a classroom, you’ll participate in field work, simulations, and other immersive approaches. These serve as an opportunity to apply the newly learnt skills to real-world business problems and prepare you for an internship or full-time job immediately after your MBA. Some of the popular MBA programs that offer the Action-based semesters are:
Michigan Ross School of Business: Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP)
The Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the leaders of this approach, with a 7-week program that pairs MBA students with organizations around the world. Called the Multidisciplinary Action Projects course (MAP), the program allows corporations and nonprofits to “sponsor” a team of MBA students to address a real-world business problem for them.
Over 70 percent of students in the program work on a project abroad, with the sponsor paying for travel and living costs. At the end of the project, the student team will present a business recommendation to the organization. Previous projects have included helping an African coffee-shop chain called Java House expand into Tanzania, as well as projects in the health care, IT, and energy sectors.
Stanford Graduate School of Business: Global Management Immersion Experience (GMIX)
Stanford GSB makes it a requirement for students to participate in a Global Experience program. GMIX provides you an immersive way to understand the culture, business environment, and social norms of a country that is new to you. You’ll spend at least four weeks during the summer working on projects for a sponsoring organization in an industry such as consumer products, international development, energy, finance, health care, media and entertainment, technology, and telecommunications. You can apply for projects the school sources or develop a GMIX focused on your specific interests.
MIT Sloan School of Management: Action Learning Labs
Action Learning Lab is a centerpiece of the MIT Sloan MBA experience, describing both our approach to management education and a wide range of hands-on learning opportunities for students.
To reinforce their developing knowledge, students at MIT Sloan exercise their leadership skills and apply classroom learning to management challenges in organizations around the world. MIT Sloan offers Action Learning labs focused on subject areas, like sustainability or analytics, or on geographic regions or type of company.
Schulich School of Business: Strategy Field Study
If you don’t want to choose between an Indian and North American program, there’s one school that might be the perfect fit for you. The Schulich School of Business at York University offers a two-year MBA with one year in Hyderabad, India, and one year in Toronto, Canada.
After studying for a year in India, students arrive in Toronto to work on an action-based learning program called the Strategy Field Study, and can choose from one of 18 specializations. It really is a combination of best practices from both Indian and North American MBA programs.
Currently, action-based programs are rare in India, so if you are interested in this kind of course, you’ll want to look overseas.
Structure of MBA Programs: U.S. vs India
Another difference between U.S. and Indian programs is how they are structured. Both the Indian School of Business (ISB) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM PGPX) offer one-year programs, while most U.S. programs take two years to complete.
A one-year MBA is a more intensive course, so is best suited to those with more than 5 years of work experience who already know what skills they want to expand on. Often, students who choose a one-year program do so because they have a job or business to return to, and are seeking to boost their professional development and rise up the ranks of organizations in India..
A two-year MBA is ideal for those looking to switch careers, or who haven’t yet decided which area of business management to focus on. If you’re new to the business world, then a two-year program may provide you with a wider variety of opportunities to network with other students. It typically includes a work placement during the summer, while a one-year program does not.
Neither option is “better” — both the one- and two-year courses cover the same material — so you’ll have to decide for yourself which timeline is the best fit for your career path. The opportunity cost of lost income is far lesser in a one-year program, but in a two-year program you have more time to savor and enjoy the MBA experience.
Sample Subjects, Curriculum and Specialisations at MBA Programs
Quality of Indian MBA Degrees
India has seen a surge of interest in MBA programs in recent years. Over 30,000 Indians took the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) in 2017, with an average score of 583. That’s more test takers than any other country except the U.S. and China.
However, the quality of MBA programs in India varies widely. One study found that only 7 percent of graduates from Indian MBA programs were considered “employable” in their field.
At the same time, the Indian School of Business (ISB) was ranked as the 27th top global MBA program by the Financial Times in 2017, alongside Columbia University. The Indian Institute of Management (IIM), which has 20 campuses around the country, came in at number 29.
But if you are interested in working in India after your MBA, you’d never go wrong studying at ISB or IIMs These top Indian business schools are comparable in quality to of education, but not in the multicultural student experience that other global schools provide.
There are some differences to keep in mind when applying to schools in India. First, you may have to take the CAT (Common Admission Test) rather than the GMAT, which is administered to over 200,000 students in India each year.
Second, MBAs can only be granted by universities, so the IIMs offer an MBA-equivalent called a PGDM (Post Graduate Diploma in Management) or PGPM (Post Graduate Programme in Management). However, this should make no difference when seeking employment, since the these top brand schools are recognized both in India and overseas.
Teaching Styles in U.S. MBA Programs vs Indian Programs
There are several different ways to structure an MBA course, and these can vary widely even within the same country. In the U.S., some schools rely more heavily on lectures, while others use the case study approach. Let’s look at how some of these programs compare.
Teaching and Grading Styles
First, how do teaching styles vary by country? In India, the emphasis is on exams and lectures, and the final exam can count for nearly all of a student’s grade. Indian students who study in the U.S. say that classes there are more interactive and less “technical.”
American schools focus more on group projects and discussions. Tests are more evenly distributed throughout the year, and count for a smaller portion of the grade. Additionally, American courses have more quizzes and other assignments.
A sample MBA class in the U.S. might be graded like this:
Exam 1 30%
Exam 2 30%
Group project 20%
Class participation 5%
Teachers have more freedom to set their own rules for exams and coursework, compared to the highly-regimented system in India. They also take copying and plagiarism far more seriously.
If you’re worried about being an international student in the U.S., remember that a large number of MBA students come from overseas, many of them from India. You won’t be the only Indian student on campus, and many universities have programs specifically designed to help international students adapt to the new environment.
Case Method Approach
One of the most popular approaches to the MBA is the case method, which was pioneered by Harvard Business School. In the HBS program, students consider over 500 cases over the course of a 2-year degree. They analyze scenarios and put themselves in the place of the executive or business-owner who has to make a decision in the case.
HBS faculty write hundreds of cases each year, many of which are sold to other programs, so you don’t have to go to Harvard to benefit from this approach.
When studying a case, students generally meet up in smaller groups to familiarize themselves with the material, before addressing the case as a class. During the discussion, students consider various courses of action and can debate or build on each other’s ideas.
This is a highly interactive learning style, best-suited to students who thrive on class discussion. At Harvard Business School, how well a student engages in class counts for 50 percent of their grade, and over 85% of class time is spent in group conversation.
This is in contrast to the lecture-based approach, which is still used at many business schools across the U.S. Carnegie Mellon and Columbia, for example, split up class time more evenly, with about 40-50% of the course being lecture-based.
Lecture-based courses can be a better fit for shy students who don’t like to speak up in class. These courses can also cover more theory in a shorter amount of time, since the teacher can keep the class focused on the material at hand.
Before choosing a program, decide which learning style works best for you. In addition to the theoretical knowledge you’ll gain in a lecture hall, the case method approach allows you to practice your debate and leadership skills as well. You’ll be exposed to ideas from other students, rather than that of a single professor.
Which Should You Choose?
Getting an MBA can be a life-changing decision, and where you get it can make a big difference to the quality of education you’ll receive. Programs vary by length of study, teaching style, and specialization. If you’re debating between studying in India or in the United States, it might seem like you have to choose between two very different options. But in reality, there’s quite a bit of overlap in material and you can get a quality education in either country.
If you plan to work internationally, then you may gain more practical experience from a program in the U.S. Many of your fellow students will be from overseas, so you’ll be exposed to a variety of business strategies and perspectives. Your degree will be useful in international markets, such as Europe, and you may be able to earn a higher salary after you graduate.
However, if you plan to work in India after your studies, it may make more sense to enroll in an MBA program at home. That way, your experience will be tailored to the Indian marketplace, which can vary considerably from those in the U.S. and Europe. You’ll likely earn less money after you graduate, but you’ll also have spent less money on tuition and living expenses.
What’s most important is finding the right school for you. Do the research and choose a program that will best prepare you for the country and industry that you want to work in.