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Reputation, value for money and the international elements of a masters in management are all key elements to consider when choosing a programme. But first it is important to be clear about your personal goals. “Students must first ask themselves, ‘What do I want? Where would I like to be in the next five years?’” says Christos Tsinopoulos, deputy director of masters programmes at Durham Business School in the UK. Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC Paris, similarly advises students to “anticipate [their] first job”.

This can be difficult. Gerges El Hajj, a graduate from HEC Paris, says he found it hard to think so far ahead before starting a programme. “I [initially] studied engineering, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or where.”

As a starting point, there are at least three categories of programmes that can help narrow down the choice: specialised MSc programmes for those who know they want to enter a particular industry; programmes on general management; and programmes designed for those seeking a conversion path into business management.

ESCP Europe, for example, currently has 15 specialised masters programmes. These include an MSc in management of cultural and artistic activities and an MSc in marketing management for the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnologies.

Courses on general management are inevitably much broader in their approach. They usually last 12 months and focus on developing a general understanding of organisations. Due to the length of study, some schools require graduates to have degrees in certain disciplines, while others advertise this type of programme as a fast-track route for beginners.

Conversion courses also tend to take a broad approach and are more suitable for those who come from a different undergraduate discipline, such as the arts, and would like to spend time learning the basics of management. They usually run for two years. The first year focuses on the fundamentals of business, and the second offers specialist modules.

This is the type of programme offered by HEC Paris, which El Hajj finally chose. It gave him the time and flexibility to make a career choice in his final year, having changed his mind along the way.

Originally from Lebanon, El Hajj especially valued the international exposure that a longer course afforded. “I chose to go to Asia for one semester and now I would like to work (there one day), after I’ve worked in France,” he says.

International exposure is important to consider when choosing a programme. A CV with a strong international element can be an advantage in today’s globalised business environment. Amy Wong, an alumnus from Audencia Business School, emphasises that the five months she spent working for the French embassy in Malaysia as part of her course, greatly helped her career.

However, Ramanantsoa says this international element can be taught within a programme, without the need for students to go abroad.

“Today we all talk about globalisation,” he says. “This refers to the ability to cope with diversity and understand different cultures, and it is not always necessary to study abroad to achieve this.”

Marie-Laure Djelic, professor in the management department at Essec Business School in France, agrees that a programme can offer international perspectives by including students from a variety of nationalities and ensuring the school offers several languages and cultural diversity training.

Then there is the hotly debated issue of reputation. “You will only do this once and at significant cost, so it’s best to look for reputation and brand,” says Tsinopoulos.

But although this is important, your individual goals should still come first. “Be a little cautious with this approach,” says Djelic, “as it can sometimes lead you in the wrong direction, if you don’t pay attention to your personal objectives.”

Wong also points out that reputation differs according to each country. “In France [for example], it is the business school that counts, but in the UK, corporate relevance is everything,” she says.

Looking at value for money is another part of the decision-making process. Can you afford it? What is the return on investment?

Finally, students are encouraged to talk to graduates and gain insight into the true nature of a programme.

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