Personal Finance

Bull market for MBAs ... but pack your suitcase


It's a great time to be an MBA—if you don't care where you live.

In a new survey, 80 percent of employers said they intend to hire MBAs this year, up from 73 percent in 2013.

In contrast, the share of those employers intending to hire college graduates decreased slightly over the past year, to 74 percent from 75 percent.

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The report—conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the standardized test often required for business school admission—follows a survey of business school career development officers earlier this year. That survey, by the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, looked at recruiting trends in the fall of 2013.

Forty-three percent of that survey's respondents, most of them from North American business schools, said recruiting on campus was picking up, and just 20 percent reported a decline.

But there is a caveat: MBAs graduating this year should keep a suitcase handy. The biggest pickup in recruiting is outside the United States.

"You are seeing larger growth in demand for MBAs in Asia, a welcome, noticeable increase in Europe and a slight uptick in the U.S.," said Michelle Sparkman-Renz, director of research communication at GMAC.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the percentage of employers planning to hire MBAs increased by 13 percentage points from 2013 to 2014, from 70 to 83 percent, and in Europe the percentage of hiring-minded employers increased from 52 percent to 61 percent. But for U.S. employers, the increase was just 5 percentage points, from 81 percent to 86 percent.

Not only that, but median starting base salaries in Asia and Europe are markedly lower than those in the U.S.

GMAC expects the median starting base salary for an MBA in the U.S. to be $95,000. But in Europe, that figure drops to $69,000, and in the Asia-Pacific region it is $21,000.

Salaries in Western Europe are likely to be higher than the European average, and in Asia-Pacific, GMAC said most of the employers reporting were based in India and the Philippines, where the cost of living is low. But even so, the difference is sharp, and not a fluke. The survey also found that "a majority of companies worldwide will offer recent MBA graduates starting salaries comparable to those offered in 2013."

One area seeing a solid pickup is demand for graduates with other business degrees, like masters degrees in management, accounting, or finance. GMAC found that 50 percent of companies intend to hire candidates with a master's in management, up from 45 percent in 2013, and 44 percent want candidates with a master's in finance, up from 39 percent.

Candidates earning a master's in accounting are seeing the biggest pickup in demand among the specialized business degrees, with 45 percent of employers planning to hire, up from 36 percent in 2013.

Those degrees "had in the past been very familiar in Europe, more than in the U.S.," said Sparkman-Renz. "More American schools are offering the degree, and companies are becoming more familiar with them. They understand that a bachelor's plus a specialized master's gives them an edge."

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No doubt about it, business degrees are back in vogue. Especially for MBAs who want to be citizens of the world.

—By Kelley Holland, Special to CNBC