Who are the happiest MBA students in the world?

MBA Happiness Index Graphic.001

The MBA50.com MBA Happiness Index 2013, which published today in Forbes, indicates that the MBA experience itself is a considerable source of personal happiness.

Over 1,100 current students from 12 of the world’s leading business schools were asked:

- How happy were you 12 months before your MBA?

- How happy are you now, during your MBA?

- How happy do you expect to be post-MBA?

The results (shown in the image above) show that MBA students are considerably happier now that they are studying for their MBA than they were a year before deciding to go to business school. And they expect to be happier still once they have graduated and get to use their new found skills and confidence in the world of business. Beyond the expected salary increase, ROI and career progression, the idea of self-development, pleasure of learning and a new network of friends are themselves a source of happiness.

“Studying for my MBA has made me happier because I am actively working to change my career and have been exposed to many new experiences so far that could lead to new career options,” says Olivia Tarbox, an American student at HEC Paris. “The MBA has also given me the chance to be a part of a dynamic and talented group of people.  The relationships I have now with my intake have enriched my life both professionally and personally as we have worked together both in and out of the classroom.”

So with responses from over 90 nationalities, who are the happiest MBA students in the world?

Happiness 12 months before MBA?Happiness now, during MBA?Happiness expected post-MBA?
Africa5.977.748.87
Australia Pacific5.757.757.67
Central and S.Asia6.337.688.55
E. Europe6.518.229.02
East and SE Asia5.947.938.81
Latin America6.828.129.06
Middle East6.158.108.56
US & Canada6.148.308.84
W. Europe5.997.728.85
The MBA Happiness Index® 2013 (1 is extremely unhappy; 10 is extremely happy)

Respondents are all currently full-time, part-time, executive MBA or distance MBA students studying at EM Lyon (France), ESMT (Germany), FGV-EAESP (Brazil), HEC Paris (France), IE Business School (Spain), Indian School of Business (India), Nyenrode Universiteit (Netherlands), Oxford – Saïd Business School (UK), Peking University BiMBA (China), St. Gallen (Switzerland), UBC Sauder (Canada), and the University of Virginia – Darden (USA).

It is MBA students from the US, Canada and Eastern Europe recorded the highest overall scores for happiness during their MBA. For Zoltan Antal Mokos, Dean of Degree Programmes at ESMT in Berlin, a large portion of that happiness in a business school context is derived from feeling as though you fit in and that life in and away from the lecture theatre is proving enjoyable. “It’s easy to measure many of the outcomes from studying an MBA; a wage increase, or a position with more responsibility for instance. But these tangible end-benefits could easily be diminished by any number of intangibles along the way, and the fact that students are happier during the programme reflects the caring approach of faculty and staff involved in the MBA programme, and suggests that life at business school as a whole is proving to be good.”

Latin American students, who have the highest expected happiness level once they have their MBA in their pocket, clearly feel that the return to school will set them on the right path for the next steps of their career.  “Typical MBA students are ambitious people, who seek success and need constant learning,” explains Marina Heck, OneMBAAssociate Dean at FGV-EAESP in Sao Paulo. “As such, the fact they are taking an MBA which is developing new competences and adding value to their profile is already a happiness factor. Another factor  is the fact that they are ‘back to school’, exploring a different environment from the corporate world, learning from colleagues, and sharing experiences that energize them”.

While results across the different business schools were surprisingly similar, students studying in France saw one of the biggest jumps in current and future expectations of happiness. Jo Li Puma, MBA Program Director at EMLyon, sees a link between the entrepreneurial mindset of many students and the happiness they derive. “As with entrepreneurs, for MBA participants, there are many long days (and nights) of intense work with a great investment of time and energy. There is little short-term reward. Happiness comes from the learning you achieve, the network you develop, the sense of accomplishment, a belief that you can make a difference in the world, and the knowledge that you will earn more in the long run as a result of your investment. The optimism that drives action are common to both entrepreneurs and MBA participants.”

The survey also asked students which aspect of the MBA program made the  happiest. Perhaps not surprisingly the top reason for happiness, cited by 42% of respondents was the pleasure that came from individual self development (see chart below).

The business of getting on in the world, despite its fall from fashion since the economic meltdown of 2008, can still play a part in lifting the mood of the brightest and best. “An MBA that provides personal growth, a caring network and, of course, more and better career opportunities will make its students happy,” says Daisy Wang, the assistant dean at the Peking University BiMBA. Which is perhaps why career progression was the second most important reason for happiness recorded in the poll.

Developing a network and learning from classmates collectively accounted for 17% of responses, suggesting that who you study with makes a big difference to your business school experience. For Erik Schlie, Associate Dean on the International MBA at IE Business School, the diverse MBA cohort propels students into quickly opening their minds as soon as they get to campus. “You realize soon that you are not alone in your quest for happiness. Yes, the MBA implies hardship and sacrifice but you ultimately strive for a better life with your peers turning into role models and your cheering squad for a lifetime. That’s a key source of sustainable happiness and it only works if you create the right spirit and environment from the very beginning of the program.”

The decision to do an MBA is never an easy one, and requires a high level of commitment and personal investment. But as with the rest of life, you can’t wait around for other people to do things for you, or even be happy for you. You will get the support of your classmates, but ultimately any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.

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