Which MBA in 2012?
By Kwon Eun-young
As part of a plan to climb the corporate ladder or make a career change, many employees and executives may have added getting a master of business administration (MBA) to their new year’s resolutions.
A survey by recruitment firm HRKOREA found last September that 82 percent of 672 respondents felt the need to improve their resume, and 52 percent of them choose going to a graduate school including a business school as the best way to upgrade their status.
While their ultimate goals for taking an MBA vary, they should be aware that the degree cannot solve all the problems they could face in the future business world. Choosing the right program through thorough examination of their preferences and business trends will maximize the gain.
Here are seven things to consider for them to start off on the right foot.
Look for various channels to pay for tuition
An MBA program doesn’t come cheap, so search for a sponsor to pay for it before launching full-scale preparations to enter business school.
Korean conglomerates such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and SK Telecom as well as global companies sponsor their employees and executives who have shown outstanding career progress.
For public servants, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) oversees their training abroad. MOPAS sets an overseas training plan each year, receives applications from each government agency and chooses candidates. More information can be found at www.training.go.kr.
In the meantime, prepare for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). A good score is a must for almost all MBA programs. The test result should be received by November for applications due in January and February. Business schools usually make announcements of those they accept around April or May.
Consider dual degree
A dual degree, which is often offered at Western institutions, especially top schools, is nowadays preferred among Korean MBA applicants.
You can major in both law and business administration if you want to be an international lawyer specializing in business. Students who wish to work in state-run organizations often major in politics and business administration. The combination of education and business administration is popular as well.
“You have to fulfill requirements before applying for a dual-degree program. For example, to major both in law and business administration, you should take both the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) and the GMAT,” Lee Sang-kyu, a director of STN Academy, a leading private cram school for MBA applicants.
Think about cost effectiveness
At top Western business schools with a long history and prominent professors, outstanding students from all over the world mingle, improving the learning process.
If you want to find a job abroad, you need to have some background in the country. An MBA degree could help you to gain a job there.
Furthermore, Korean companies, many of which rely on exports, will demand more employees with global experience as they expand their business abroad.
An MBA program form top Western business schools, however, would easily cost about $200,000 including tuition fees and living expenses. You should also consider opportunity costs of the two years dedicated to studying.
At the end of the day, an MBA degree from a top school does not guarantee a better job or a higher salary. Headhunters say that their own surveys suggest that most employers look at candidates’ capabilities, not just their MBA degrees.
“It is true that education from top schools abroad gives candidates broader perspectives and in-depth knowledge while employers prefer highly motivated candidates with in-depth knowledge in their areas,” Choi Ho-sik, a CEO of Best Network INC., a human resource consulting company, said.
“If a person has a degree from a top MBA school, it could be a plus factor to impress the employer. However, the degree alone won’t impress the employer because companies often find those with MBA degrees from prestigious schools do not necessarily perform well in their jobs.”
Compared to studying abroad, doing an MBA in Korea costs less in terms of both money and time. Min Jae-hyoung, the dean of the Sogang University Graduate School of Business says, “Korean MBAs are equipped with excellent hardware and software. Famous MBA professors are invited to teach the course while students find various internships opportunities.”
Consider job market trends
The second job market in Korea isn’t active, according to Min of Sogang Business School. Employers prefer candidates with a longer work experience than those who were absent from the field for two years to study an MBA. Furthermore, an undergraduate degree from a prestigious school matters more than a graduate counterpart.
Working and doing an MBA part time at the same time could be the best solution for Korea’s job market.
“It is not hard to find job seekers with MBA degrees, but they are not recognized as much as they want to be because their absence from the industry for two years is a huge loss,” a headhunter, who wished to be identified only by his last name Hong, says.
The environment, however, is expected to gradually change over time as Korean job culture has become increasingly similar to that of the Western society.
“The younger generation devote more to themselves than to the companies they work for. They want to develop themselves and believe they deserve recognition for those efforts. An active second job market will be eventually formed because of this change.” Min says.
In finding a job abroad, having a background in the targeted country is crucial. Although getting a job abroad after finishing an MBA has become difficult because the economic crisis in the U.S. and Europe shrank the job markets and employers increasingly prefer natives, there do exist successful cases.
“My student, who did not graduate from a top undergraduate school in Seoul, but studied an MBA program at Cornell University, is now a successful consultant in the U.S.,” Lee of STN Academy said.
“Some of our students who had work experience in Google, Apple and Blizzard in Korea got opportunities to work with the headquarters of those companies.”
Choose right pathway
Certain professionals including lawyers and doctors are highly recognized in Korea, so combining such celebrated specialization and an MBA degree could promise the candidate higher demand after graduation.
One of the most spotlighted sectors is IT as the industry continues to develop. “Engineers with MBA degrees are in high demand,” Hong said.
However, having a clear idea of your strength and goal in choosing a pathway in an MBA program is more important than just seeking for popular business fields.
“Some MBA graduates seem to have started their degrees with the vague hope of becoming a consultant or an investment banker, but getting a better job than the previous one isn’t easy,” Moon In-kyoung, a headhunter who did not want her employer name published, said.
“Understanding your competitiveness and finding out what you are curious about and strengthening them through further education are important,” Kwak Su-keun, a former dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Business, says.
“Some of the positive cases included a student who wanted to invest in the semiconductor sector after working in the industry, and a former public relations official who wished to learn more about luxury marketing.”
Know your competitors
Undergraduate students are nowadays remarkable in looking after their background records and preparing for the GMAT ― many of them have perfect grade point averages (GPAs) and outstanding work experience, Lee of STN Academy says.
Office workers and executives who have years of work experience and are fluent in English are still the majority of MBA applicants. Those with specialized professions rarely prepare for the degree because they prefer developing in their own fields.
In the case of graduates, about 40 percent of them want to work for consulting firms or investment banks after graduation, according to Choi of Bestnetworks. Graduates who had been in the consulting industry often prefer moving onto planning, marketing, finance or human resources departments.
Know factors that will get you in
If you set your heart on an MBA program, you need to set up the right strategy to get into your dream school.
Let’s start with the good news ― each school has a portion of their entrance quota for international students.
“Korean female students have advantages because they qualify for both quotas for international students and females,” Lee of STN Academy said.
Some schools apparently favor Koreans. “Last year, 25 Korean students were admitted to the MBA program of Columbia University, one of the top schools in the U.S.”
Entering Harvard Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business is extremely difficult because they prefer natives. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania accepts a broad spectrum of students. Students admitted to Wharton show a wide range of GMAT scores while the school pays a great deal of attention to applicants’ specialties, Lee said.
Furthermore, western business schools do not necessarily prefer students who graduated with outstanding grades from prestigious schools in Korea and worked for large conglomerates.
“They like applicants who have had dramatic lives such as experiences of living in Iraq or working for non-profit organizations like the United Nations or who have had extreme success or failure,” Lee said.
Of course, excellent GMAT scores and essays are the most important factors business schools look at in screening applications. If an applicant has worked in global companies such as Google or Apple, an employer’s recommendation would be favored by admissions offices. Koreans as non-native English speakers are required to submit their TOEFL test results as well.