The X-Factor

Does the Master’s Location Matter?

April 1st, 2014

Location is often a determining factor in the cost of your programme, the lifestyle you will have while you are completing your studies, the educational resources at your disposal, and the internship and work opportunities available to you upon graduation. Different resources highlight different aspects of the decision-making process as important, but they all seem to agree that the geographical location of a university matters.

Location will matter more in some graduate programmes than in others. There are some very location-specific degrees, such as law, which will significantly restrict your mobility because of the sheer diversity of legal systems in existence. Location is of utmost importance if you choose to pursue a degree that involves research into primary resources, such as national archives, or that require immersion into a particular cultural setting. Chances are that if you are looking for a good Italian philology programme, for instance, institutions in Italy would be your prime target.

On the whole, professional programmes tend to be located in proximity to occupational opportunities. It is no wonder, then, that the majority of universities offering finance and management degrees are located in urban areas, for example, or that the top programmes that prepare you for careers in European Union institutions are mostly based in Belgium or neighboring Holland.

Delyan Ganev, who earned a Master’s in Finance from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says he only realised just how important location is for professional programmes once he had started his studies at Sloan. A campus in/near a big city gives access to industry events, contacts, projects and (of course) job search,” he says. “I put virtually no emphasis on the location at the time of applying to grad school. And I shouldn’t have overlooked this factor.” Things worked out very well for him in the end, as he currently works for one of the most successful asset management firms in the US, Baron Funds.

Location tends to have an impact on your job prospects if you want to work in a specific sector. Areas with high concentrations of companies from any given industry tend to foster the emergence and growth of educational programmes relevant to that industry. And needless to say, at a time when everything - including recruiting - happens online, being able to knock on your employer’s door still holds many benefits. Therefore, if you are interested in a career in IT, a Silicon Valley institution may be an obvious choice for you.

Should a senior role in cosmetics manufacturing appeal to you, you should probably look at universities with close connections to the industry, such as Lancaster. Milan-based universities might unlock opportunities in the fashion industry or agriculture.

Employers care about where you graduated not only in order to gauge your qualifications but also to identify whether you possess local knowledge: in other words, they want to make sure you are familiar with the customs and lifestyle of the place where they do business, whether this is vital to the business or not. Many employers are reluctant to hire you unless you have lived in a certain place; they want to make sure you can adjust to your new environment quickly and can actively contribute to the activities of the company from day one. So if you know you want to work in London’s marketing industry, chances are a degree from a local university will give you an advantage over other candidates.

Rumyana Nacheva, who earned an MBA from Hult in London, had a clear professional goal before she started researching graduate degrees, which resolved the question of where to go to grad school fairly quickly. “I knew that studying here would significantly increase my chances of landing a job in London. Local experience is valued more than in other markets, so a degree from a business school in London helps in finding a job,” Nacheva says. Nacheva started working for her current employer, blue-chip consultancy Kantar Retail, within three months of completing her programme and within a month of commencing an active job search.

Graduates of more general programmes go into a variety of careers, which is why the location of their school plays a more minor role in determining professional outcomes. But even for programmes that emphasise a broad education, location is important; few companies (other than multinationals) will invest the resources necessary to embark on a global search for new recruits.

It may be stating the obvious, but the location of your school will have major impact on the cost of the course. Moreover, your upkeep in places like London or New York may end up costing as much or more than your entire tuition fees, so this is something to think about when selecting a school. If you do not have the financial resources, nor want to be saddled with loans, you may want to reconsider shopping around for grad schools in London. Instead, places like Edinburgh (the Scottish capital) offer excellent alternatives at a fraction of the cost. (And if you do look in Edinburgh, you will definitely have to check out the offerings of the University of Edinburgh, one of the world’s most venerable and highly-ranked institutions).

You might also want to do some research into the lifestyles available to students enrolled at your shortlisted institutions. You need to ensure that you will be comfortable living in a place before you commit yourself to spending a year or two there. For example, if you are not comfortable driving, you may want to steer clear of remote campuses that have no convenient access to public transportation.

There is also evidence to suggest that location’s importance is on the wane. Today, business is more global than ever, and the location of your school has less of an impact on your mobility now than it used to in the previous century. What does this mean for you? It means that you no longer need to be London or New York in order to land a high-powered job that allows for upward professional mobility and personal growth. In fact, knowledge of an Eastern European or an Asian language (think Russian or Chinese, for example) or experience in other business environments will give you a much better shot at getting an important job at one of the multinationals, because future growth is projected to occur in those markets. 

Even if a school’s location is less relevant than it used to be, its ability to network with business remains vitally important, especially if it’s nowhere near employment opportunities. This is why you should look into how good a school’s career support services are.

For instance, in the previous decade, the CEU Business School’s network was limited to Bucharest, Romania, where Daniel Secareanu chose to seek employment. So his professional advancement was a result of both personal effort and CEU’s good reputation throughout the region. “[However,] if I had decided to find a job in Budapest, the school network would have been able to provide better support,” he says. Secareanu holds both an MSc in IT Management and an MBA from CEU Business School.

Universities in non-English-speaking countries now offer English-language programmes to help their alumni compete with a global workforce. In this way, graduates of Greece-based ALBA Graduate Business School or the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, for instance, can successfully compete with alums of top-ranked UK- or US-based institutions. The former may even have a couple of advantages over the latter, such as local knowledge and a more international perspective – skills that employers today value above many others.

Many universities recognise the importance of exposing their graduates to different cultural and business environments, which is why they set up campuses abroad or provide some sort of international experience as part of their programme. Nacheva says: Hult has campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai - and, as of this year, New York - with an option for two rotations. This gives every student the unique opportunity to study and gather valuable experience on up to three continents in one calendar year.”

The trend of incorporating mobility programmes into educational degrees has made European job seekers – and, importantly, European employers – more aware of cross-country educational offerings. Another corollary is that institutional reputations have extended beyond national borders. So if, say, twenty years ago, no one outside the UK knew that the University of Edinburgh offered excellent degrees in engineering, medicine, and the humanities, today, the institution’s prestige extends well beyond the city. Moreover, the Bologna process has helped streamline education in Europe and made it easier to verify academic credentials. As a result, it has become easier for employers to recruit from across the continent.

To recap, location is important, but it is not everything. Your success in graduate school, and later, in the job market, is determined by a mix of factors, such as an institution’s reputation, your motivation and ability to network efficiently, your school’s resources, university rankings, the type of degree you get, your professional goals, and the state of the job market.

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