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5 Ways for U.S. Students to Compare Top European Online MBA Programs

UK Online MBAThere are so many fake or poorly-conceived rankings of online MBA degrees that it is virtually impossible for consumers in the United States to get solid advice about the “best” or “top” online European MBA programs.

Get Educated profiles 350+ online MBA programs, but, alas, all are in the United States (okay, so one, Athabasca University’s distance MBA program, is in Canada). Since questions about European and UK online MBA programs are popular in our student advice forum, we’re tackling this question head-on for inquisitive U.S. citizens who crave a credible global business education without leaving home.

IMHO: The only trustworthy place to find comparative data on European, UK and global MBA options is the “Financial Times.” The reason is simple: American students can rest assured all universities listed by the FT are properly accredited in their countries of origin—no easy task as the European online MBA sector is filthy with diploma mills and distance programs that award degrees to executives and dogs alike.

You will want, at minimum, a university whose accreditation is equivalent to what it known as “regional accreditation” in the USA for the widest degree acceptance worldwide. In the UK, for example, this would mean a university like the University of Edinburgh that operates under “Royal Charter.”

After that, the business school itself, as opposed to the entire university, may or may not hold specialized accreditation of its business curriculum.

In the United States, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is regarded by many as a quality mark worth seeking. (If you know little about B-school accreditation, consult “Do I Need an AACSB Accredited Online MBA?“.)

There are hundreds of fake online degree-accrediting agencies operating across Europe. If you think you’ve found a good distance MBA but remain unsure of the accreditation listed by that school, consult our handy list of fake online college accrediting agencies.

UK programs often seek accreditation from the UK Association of MBAs (AMBA) while B-schools across Europe often opt for review by EQUIS (the European Quality Improvement System). Some believe that triple accreditation—AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB—is the ideal combo for future global Wall Street wizards.

The University of Warwick Business School (UK), which is ranked #2 among distance MBAs by the Financial Times, is accredited by everyone and their cousin: AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB. Rest assured that a B-degree from Warwick will land you a job whether you work in outer Toledo or inner Timbuktu. Likewise, the IE Business School in Spain, which offers a Times’ and Forbes’ top-ranked hybrid, blended global MBA, holds triple accreditation.

IMHO: The #1 reason Americans ask about European online MBAs is that they’ve read most will admit them without their having first earned a pesky four-year bachelor’s degree.

The European MBA without a bachelor’s degree is actually a real thing, not an Internet myth. The FT’s #2 ranked MBA, the University of Warwick’s MBA by distance learning, invites anyone of exceptional intelligence to apply:

“You must be intellectually outstanding…You must also have proven academic ability, the ability to work effectively in a team, the desire to learn, and the potential to succeed. We welcome applications from candidates who do not have the academic qualifications but are exceptional, with a proven ability to achieve. You must have at least four years’ postgraduate managerial work experience…We look for an excellent degree from a UK university or the equivalent from an overseas university. We also welcome applications from candidates who do not have the academic qualifications but are exceptional, with a proven ability to achieve.”

HOWEVER, please note:

“If you do not have a degree or equivalent qualification but have a substantial amount of work experience, the Selection Committee may request that you take either the Warwick test or GMAT.”

So, there you have it: YES, admission to European graduate business degree programs is often “open,” BUT notice that “open” does not mean “wide open.” And good luck on that GMAT if you have no formal educational background as that is what the GMAT assesses as opposed to your bootstrapping business ability.

(If standardized tests like the GMAT scare you, there are MBA programs in the United States that routinely waive the GRE and GMAT. See: “AACSB Accredited Online MBAs that require NO GRE or GMAT“; “Regionally Accredited Online MBAs That Do Not Require GRE and GMAT“; and “Nationally Accredited Online MBAs That Do Not Require GRE and GMAT.”)

Compare European options carefully for residency requirements. Many of the top distance MBAs are not 100 percent online. Most require face time on a campus somewhere in the world. Warwick, for example, has what they call “the Warwick Week,” which sounds (and looks) a lot like a jolly old-fashioned pledge week at boarding school:

“You will join us at the Warwick campus twice in your first year, for five and three days. A Warwick Week involves lectures, case studies, group work, exam practice, networking and social events along with careers and study skills sessions.”


While campus time or blended MBA courses (part face-to-face and part online) do not improve educational quality, there are career networking benefits to pressing flesh with an elite global student body, so factor in if cost and travel time is worth the long-distance commute when comparing online European MBA programs.

If you don’t want or need the experience or expense of a residency, Durham University (UK), which in 2014 was ranked 6th among distance MBAs by the FT editors, offers a 100 percent online learning program supported by online video lectures, podcasts and virtual learning resources. Durham offers an optional summer school on campus should you want to run around a tree-lined quad and get squishy with the blokes.

(See our advice piece “The Hybrid Online MBA” for more on the pros and cons of blended study.)

There is no one single type of academic experience among UK or European distance MBA programs. While FT’s top-ranked Warwick distance MBA promises a tailor-cut education with a personal academic nanny who “timetables your study activities,” along with frequent online assessments to help with knowledge retention, other European MBA programs offer what is best described as bare-knuckle “self-study.”

The Edinburgh Business School Distance MBA at Heriot-Watt University, one of the first and most heavily marketed programs in the United States, will admit any student who wants to give it a go. Only after students successfully make it through the first few courses, earning a first stage certificate, are they formally admitted to begin earning credits toward the MBA degree. (Athabasca University offers the same “have a go at it” MBA option by the way.

Think of the Warwick program as a stay at the Ritz with study valets. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is more like heading up Mt. Everest, bare to the butt. Good luck, Charlie.

In the end we all educate ourselves, but research shows that instructor feedback, “timetabling” and active tutoring significantly enhance online student retention and success. The more instructional support and peer connection the better, so consider this critical factor when comparing European distance degrees.

Students in the United States are used to having homework, team projects, class participation and multiple choice or objective style assessments all contribute toward a final course grade. No one item, like a final three-hour essay exam, counts too heavily toward passing or failing a single course.

Be forewarned that European assessment methods are different, often shockingly so for North American students.

At one end of the spectrum, you have read your course materials and studied. Then, when ready, you go take a single final exam to prove your competency. This is the method employed at the Edinburgh Business School:

“All EBS courses are assessed by examinations. You apply for examination when you feel fully prepared. Simply register online. You will then be allocated to an examination centre in your region, supervised by an invigilator or proctor appointed by EBS. Examination sessions, known as diets, are held in all exam centres for all courses in June and December each year. Each exam for each course is a three-hour written examination. All questions are compulsory: you do not have a choice. You are permitted a maximum of two examination attempts for each core course. There is a fee of £125 for each examination attempt. Results are issued by EBS approximately 6 weeks after the relevant diet. You will receive both a grade and a percentage, as follows:
• X for 80% or above
• A for 65% to 79%
• B for 50% to 64%
• C for 45% to 49% (fail)
• D for less than 45% (fail)
“If you have failed an exam and would like feedback on your performance you may request an analytical report on each case study and essay question. You will be required to indicate this by correspondence and to include a fee of £125 for each course for which the report is requested.”

Just reading the EBS exam policy makes me break out in a warm sweat, and I enjoy written, essay style exams. (Being assessed by an “invigilator” sounds unpleasant to me.)

Most Americans find the final exam style of assessment (and invigilation) daunting. We are not a nation used to proving our intellectual competency by writing a single comprehensive exam (UK and European students are, on the other hand, accustomed to this style of assessment and very perplexed by what they consider the lax hodgepodge American method of course assessment).

Save yourself some test anxiety. Look for distance MBA programs that use more relaxed American assessment methods, such as case studies or practical team projects that tie academic theory to challenges in your workplace.


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