Where to study? The choice is yours...

A wide and sometimes baffling array of qualifications is on offer at business schools across the globe. Martin Thompson talks to two recent graduates about their chosen study paths and finds that the 'where' is just as important as the 'why'
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The Independent Online

'I'd fallen for Scotland on a student trip'

As 2009 dawned, Corianne Waller, 28, hit the highway south to begin a new phase of life in Texas. She had recently returned home to the United States to pick up her career path again, newly armed with an MBA from the University of Edinburgh Business School.

"After my first degree, I ended up falling into human resources where I gained limited business knowledge. I wasn't interested in staying in that sector for the long term and that's when I decided to look at an MBA," she says. "When it came to deciding between the MBA and a specialist Masters, the MBA won out, as it not only includes technical aspects such as finance and accounting but also the 'softer' aspects of business such as managing and leadership which I wanted to explore."

Why would an American consider leaving the birthplace of the MBA to study at a business school on this side of the Atlantic? "I had fallen for Scotland during a student trip and Edinburgh is well positioned in the Financial Times rankings. I had to fund the course myself and the fact that UK schools offer an intensive one-year course – as opposed to two years in the States – was an important factor.

"I was also keen to have an English language experience but with the bonus of a strong international dimension. There turned out to be no less than 28 nationalities in my year – government officials, senior executives, marketing people, a very diverse group. The international spread of the class gave the course a real edge and I learnt a great deal from my fellow classmates during the group assignments. I could not have experienced this in a US school.

"A further reason why I chose Edinburgh was its strong focus on entrepreneurship classes, as I plan to open my own business at some stage.

"In the short term, I've found that taking time out for the MBA has not only broadened my business knowledge immeasurably but is also creating a real advantage when applying for jobs in these harsh economic times. An MBA brings you up to another level and will always be in demand."

She may not have found her dream job as yet. But for Waller and her partner John, whom she met on the Edinburgh course, heading for a new life in Texas together is a case of "have MBA, will travel with added confidence".

'The course gave me tools to market in a new way'

Alex Reeve, 45, believes in the mobile revolution. As director of the mobile business group at Microsoft UK he is responsible for marketing and sales of Microsoft software to run the next generation of mobile devices.

Having made the decision to study for a Masters, it was talking to Professor David James at Henley Business School that convinced Reeve he would benefit from the opportunity to challenge his traditional assumptions about marketing in the mobile age.

"I felt that I needed a specialist part-time programme as I have sufficient knowledge of the general business areas covered by an MBA. David James's approach to teaching the MSc in strategic marketing focuses on new ways of looking at consumer behaviour. He's interested in the future – getting into the thinking of the next generation of consumers – how social networking sites and business generally can take maximum advantage of mobiles, exploring the fascinating new ways in which people interact.

"Consumers today help to create product value themselves. Take eBay: it's essentially a product created by the people who use it. That's a concept I'd never considered in detail before the MSc.

"The course gave me the tools to market in a completely new way. For example, at Microsoft we looked closely at the language people use to describe flexible working via your mobile and discovered there was no expression for 'I am not in the office but am still working'. So we invented the term 'Moof' (mobile out of office) and this has now started to enter the lexicon. People need a way of explaining how the new technology influences their lives."

Just as he took on the Masters to challenge his professional assumptions, Alex is clearly not sticking to the comfort zone in his free moments. Apart from spending time with his wife and young family, a personal passion is sailing what he describes as "nasty, fast dinghies" in the wet and cold.

The MSc took him two years to complete and he graduated with a distinction. "Fitting intensive study into your family and working life is a challenge in itself. I would say to anyone considering a Masters: be very clear that you can carve out the necessary time before you commit. Having the full backing of my family and my employers, who sponsored me, was a massive bonus."