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A degree in Hispanic linguistics does not spring to mind as an obvious passport to that all-important first job after college. So when Michelle McCarthy graduated with just such a qualification, she decided she needed a top-up business degree as well.

“I knew I wanted to go into business,” she says, “possibly in Latin-American business relations.” In May, she enrolled on the University of Notre Dame’s inaugural Master of Science in Business degree at the Mendoza school in Indiana.

Mendoza is one of a growing number of strong-brand US business schools launching one-year degrees for students straight out of undergraduate programmes. The Kellogg school at Northwestern University in Chicago also starts a pre-experience degree this year, while Michigan Ross will launch a similar programme in 2014.

The Fuqua school at Duke University in North Carolina has taught its Master of Management Studies for several years.

These degrees have a particular appeal for US schools as they secure income at a time when the cost of two-year MBAs has caused applications to fall. But elsewhere in North America, these degrees – traditionally the flagship programmes of European business schools – are also in vogue. Canadian schools such as Queen’s in Ontario, the Sauder school at the University of British Columbia and the Ivey school at the University of Western Ontario all now teach these pre-experience masters degrees.

Student numbers are increasing worldwide. In Australia, the University of Melbourne launched its masters in management (MiM) degree in 2000 with 21 students. Now more than 600 students are enrolling on the first year, says Paul Kofman, dean of the faculty of business and economics.

In India, where the postgraduate programmes (PGP) offer a comparable degree to the European MiM, demand at the top institutions is also growing, says Shailesh Gandhi, chairman for PGP programmes at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. For the latest class of 385, the school had 180,855 applicants, compared with 173,886 the previous year.

An increasing number of Indian students are also looking overseas, particularly to Europe. Edouard Husson, dean of ESCP Europe, has seen a rise in applicants from India and China, but also from Germany, Italy and Spain. “The masters in management is seen by many students as a possible answer to the [economic] crisis,” he says.

It is about more than just hiding away until Europe’s economies improve, he believes. “Applicants are looking for programmes that give mobility. If a programme is not international enough, students won’t apply.”

In Sweden, Magnus Mähring, associate dean for masters of science programmes at Stockholm School of Economics, also reports many overseas applications. “We see increasing demand for our masters in management, both internally from our bachelor students, but also from the international market.”

In Germany, Henning Zülch, academic director of the masters programme at HHL in Leipzig, tells a similar tale. In 2006 and 2007, the school reported a handful of international students. Now one-third come from outside Germany – and many stay on. “In 75 per cent of cases, graduates work in Germany because of the strength of the economy,” he says.

At Skema, the school with campuses in France, China and the US, more than a third of the students on its traditional French Grande Ecole masters in management programme are from outside France these days. And competition is hotting up, says dean Alice Guilhon. “We are facing amazing competition.”

The increase in numbers is borne out by statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT entry test for business schools. According to GMAC, the number of GMAT test-takers who were under 24 years old – typical masters in management candidates – rose from about 70,000 in 2007-08 to more than 100,000 in 2011-12, rapidly closing on the number of GMAT test-takers aged between 24 and 30, which is the age of a typical MBA student.

David Wilson, president of GMAC, says younger students are looking for skills to help them secure their first job. “As the ROI [return on investment] of the conventional two-year MBA comes under more and more pressure from both the cost and the return side, the pre-experiential degrees will continue to have appeal,” he adds.

Some MiM programmes are targeted at those that have an undergraduate degree in business or economics, but an increasing number are aimed at students who want a conversion degree – to give them the business skills needed to get their first job.

Mendoza brings together arts graduates with those from maths, statistics and engineering, says McCarthy. The curriculum is “definitely challenging”, she says, “but we have not been given anything that we can’t accomplish.”

She spent a semester in Spain as part of her undergraduate degree, but eschewed studying there for her masters, as a job in America was paramount. “I thought it would be tough [finding work in the US] out of there.”

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