MBA School Choice: IESE Vs. ESADE

You cannot make a bad choice between these two Spanish business schools, but they offer different experiences

With a healthy jobs market, a widely spoken language and abundance of entertainment, Spain is a sun-soaked utopia for MBA aspirants. 

The nation’s two premier business schools — IESE and ESADE — score well in MBA rankings, a proxy for quality and prestige. But how do the schools compare? 

IESE vs ESADE: MBA rankings 

When it comes to rankings, IESE has a consistent advantage. IESE and ESADE are currently ranked #12 and #21, respectively, in the Global MBA Ranking published by The Financial Times. Other rankings reveal an even more dramatic lead for IESE. The Economist lists IESE at #6 and ESADE #46, while Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranks IESE at #28 and ESADE at #44. 

So, it not surprising that IESE receives more applications than ESADE (approximately 2,100 versus 950 per year), is more selective (25 percent acceptance rate versus ESADE’s 35 percent), and has a higher yield on its admissions offers than ESADE does (63 percent versus 56 percent). 

However, applying to and getting admitted by ESADE requires more time and effort, according to Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions firm. 

For example, ESADE expects more from those compiling recommendation letters, requiring two professional and/or academic referees. The letters are used to evaluate an ESADE applicant’s “global mindset and personal motivation”. For example, one question is: “What are the areas in which you believe the candidate needs to improve?” 

Also, ESADE requires five essay questions to be answered, compared with two at IESE, which has an optional third question. Both schools’ essay questions focus on the candidate’s professional achievements, while at ESADE the extra questions delve into what value they can add to the cohort. 

IESE vs ESADE: MBA class profile 

Another significant difference is size of the student body. IESE’s class has approximately 350 full-time MBA students, while ESADE has around half that number. 

Fred Gifford, one the MBA students from this year at ESADE, says being in a small school gave him flexibility to interact with other students and stakeholders. “ESADE has a gigantic reach,” he says. “You’re this tiny hub in Barcelona, but every country comes through the doors, along with every business, giant or startup, and every other business school too.”

The biggest reason to apply for an ESADE place was the people, whom Gifford says have verve. “Everyone I met – staff, students, alumni – was open and inspiring. They were sharp, they all thought differently, they all wanted to connect.”  

Yet, IESE’s class profile is stronger with an average 690 GMAT compared to ESADE’s 660 GMAT. 

The two schools are remarkably similar in terms of their cohort’s average age, work experience, gender and geographic diversity. But ESADE has a significantly

higher percentage of international students: 97 percent versus IESE’s 80 percent. This is likely due to the teaching being done in English at ESADE, while its bilingual at IESE. 

It is widely accepted in business school that a diverse range of nationalities enriches the learning experience through classroom discussion and debate. But the opportunity to become fluent in Spanish will not be lost on IESE’s students: it’s the second most used language globally, and is especially valuable in the Spanish-speaking emerging markets of Latin America. (ESADE MBA students also have the chance to take Spanish language classes during the program).

IESE’s MBA program lasts 15 or 19 months, while ESADE students can earn the degree in 12, 15, or 18 months. IESE’s 19-month course includes a summer internship—and there are internship opportunities in ESADE's 15- and 18-month options as well. An internship is a tried-and-tested route into high-paying and desirable industries, such as investment banking and management consulting. 

IESE vs ESADE: Post-MBA careers 

More than 500 recruiters visit IESE’s campus annually. This helps explain why 94 percent of students have at least one job offer within three months of graduation. The most popular fields (in order) are consulting, industry, technology, and financial services. The leading functions are consulting, sales and marketing, and finance. 

IESE’s MBAs are globally mobile, as 62 percent change geographic location on graduation. Major employers include Accenture, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, McKinsey and Amazon. The annual base salary averages €80,000. 

ESADE’s graduates have excellent career prospects too, with 93 percent employed after three months. The most popular industries are broadly similar to IESE, with the addition of manufacturing. As are the functions ESADE’s MBAs work in, though some also enter operations and logistics. 

A lesser 50 percent of ESADE’s MBAs change location, so in that sense IESE has the edge in terms of global mobility. Top employers include AB InBev, Nike, PepsiCo, Amazon, Google, Credit Suisse, and Bain. The average yearly salary ranges from $65,000 to €106,000, depending on industry, function and location. 

IESE vs ESADE: Location 

The full-time MBAs from both IESE and ESADE are based in well-connected Barcelona, where major corporations continue to grow, including MBA-friendly icons Facebook, Amazon, WeWork and PepsiCo. “Banking, tourism and logistics are big. IT, tech and entrepreneurship are rapidly expanding — good news for MBA students seeking employment,” says Min, of The MBA Exchange.  

There is an abundance of entertainment for students to enjoy including festivals, music, professional football, and seasonal outdoor activities. “Food options are nearly infinite and delicious, covering an array of ethnicities,” says Min.

Living costs are significant, but well below those of other major European cities, such as London, which has higher rent, food and public transportation costs.  

So whether one chooses IESE or ESADE, there are many reasons to be cheerful about doing an MBA in Barcelona. 

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