Thalia Elena Hernàndez Durán’s MBA classmates offered advice when she applied for an internship at Amazon HQ © Ian Bates
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature

When Thalia Elena Hernández Durán moved from Mexico to London to study for a masters in management, she did not think she would need an MBA. After all, the MiM teaches similar technical and leadership skills to MBAs but can be finished faster and more cheaply.

Hernández Durán enrolled in London Business School’s one-year MiM in 2012 — a course that takes half the time and, at £31,400 today, costs about one-quarter of the tuition fees for a two-year MBA at a top US school.

On graduation she spent a year working in the social impact sector and three years consulting for Bain & Company. The exposure to a broad range of industries on the MiM helped her in her job at Bain, which deals with diverse and global clients.

Then, last year, Hernández Durán quit Bain and enrolled in the two-year MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business in California. She wanted to expand her network and learn from more experienced peers. The MiM is a pre-experience programme for candidates with little or no work experience, whereas MBA students typically have several years’ working knowledge.

“Although the academics overlap, the MiM and MBA programmes are very different because of the people you study with,” says Hernández Durán, 29.

She stresses the importance of her Stanford cohort, which helped her secure an internship at Amazon in Seattle, the ecommerce company where she spent the summer working as a senior product manager. “I had classmates who previously worked at Amazon go over my cover letter and CV,” Hernández Durán says.

“They helped me align my application with the Amazon leadership principles, such as customer obsession — something the recruiting team puts emphasis on and I wouldn’t know about without the MBA.”

Many of those who graduate from MiMs are making the same choice as Hernández Durán, coming back to business school in their late twenties and early thirties for an MBA. They say the MBA programmes offer bigger networks, more electives and experienced peers, which can help them move into more senior leadership positions or switch careers into a new function, industry or geography.

A quarter of MiM alumni are considering enrolling in MBA programmes, according to a survey this year by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT business school entrance exam. They tend to choose a different school and country in which to study for an MBA, so as to benefit from the insights offered by different professors and business climate, and for the alumni network.

One example is Vikram Basistha. He enrolled in the €31,450, two-year MBA at France’s Grenoble École de Management in 2013, two years after getting a MiM from the University of Mumbai. The 30-year-old Indian says he wanted exposure to different cultures and to learn French.

“The MBA developed my ability to interact with and understand people of different nationalities as participants came from across the globe, including Africa,” Basistha says. “This is a far cry from programmes in India.”

He says that helped him secure a competitive, paid position at Grenoble last year, researching cross-cultural management as part of a PhD.

An MBA helped Vikram Basistha better understand people of different nationalities

The majority of the MiM alumni GMAC surveyed — 59 per cent — studied in Europe, where the degree is most strongly established. About one-quarter got their MiMs in Asia and 9 per cent from the US.

Most schools do not market their MBA courses to MiM candidates for fear it could damage their brand, according to Nick Sanders, director of the Masters in International Business at Grenoble. “We don’t have that discussion with our MiM students because what you’re basically saying is: the MiM isn’t sufficient for your long-term career,” he says. “I would feel very uneasy about recommending the MBA to a MiM student.”

Rebecca Loades, director of masters programmes at GMAC, adds that some business schools fear MiMs could “cannibalise” the MBA because some MiMs have enjoyed faster application growth than MBAs.

“But there’s a continuum of graduate management education,” she says. “It’s not necessarily a one-shot game. MiMs are actually growing the pool of students, rather than shuffling them around.”

Some schools are catching on. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in the US, for example, is considering allowing its MiM alumni to skip some MBA modules that cover similar ground to the MiM and pay lower tuition fees, according to associate dean Norman Bishara. “We want a lifelong relationship with the MiM alumni, but we can’t ask them to start over in the MBA, as it could be a deterrent,” he says.

Ian Rogan, director of the MBA at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School in the UK, says that having MiM degrees could make alumni more competitive as MBA applicants, as they have demonstrated qualities such as academic ability. “If someone has a weak GMAT score but has a MiM degree and did well in their finance courses, for example, that would be attractive, as it shows they have the quantitative skills that are vital for success in an MBA,” he says.

The additional cost is the biggest barrier to an MBA for many MiM alumni. Hernández Durán estimates the bill for tuition, housing and living expenses for her MiM and MBA combined will come to roughly $290,000 when she graduates from Stanford next year.

However, she received scholarships and loans from or facilitated by the Mexican government and Stanford. Together they covered about 85 per cent of her total first-year MBA costs. “It’s an investment, but I do think I will see returns in the future,” she says. “None of my Stanford peers have trouble paying back their loans.”

‘The experience was more practical than the MiM’

Alexandros Evripides returned to business school for skills to develop his games start-up

Alexandros Evripides enrolled in the MiM at London Business School to acquire business skills and grow his London-based video games start-up, Eurigames. He previously studied for two UK masters degrees in computing.

Yet in 2016, three years after graduating from the MiM programme, he joined the one-year MBA at Oxford Saïd. The 29-year-old Greek was attracted to the broad range of electives at Saïd (now about 30) and the practical application of knowledge.

In one MBA course, he created a business plan for a new venture and pitched for funding from investors.

“I did not pursue the idea, but the experience was more practical than the MiM courses,” he says. “I plan to utilise the skills I learned and raise funding for Eurigames in the future.”

Get alerts on Masters in Management when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article