December 6th, 2010
07:21 AM GMT
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There are only 55 MBA students in Emmanuel Poupelle's class at Hong Kong University. When he walked into his orientation session earlier this year, the French citizen scanned the room. The majority of his classmates were not Asian. He estimates 60 percent were westerners.

“Probably the first thing we thought is we made the right decision because that’s what we were looking for. That’s what we applied for... to be fully invested in China, fully invested in Asia,” Poupelle remembers. He's among a growing number of MBA students targeting Asia-based programs for their degree. The ultimate goal: landing a job in Asia.

Classmate Stuart Mercier of Canada chose Hong Kong to enroll in business school because he wants, eventually, to go into real estate in greater China. "I think in this region, you see the projections of growth that are five, six, seven-times what they are for the Western world for the next decade. And so this was really the opportunity to follow the growth."

Because of China's growth, the number of MBA programs on mainland China has tripled to more than 250 in the past decade.

Follow the test scores

Most business schools require GMAT test scores as part of the application process so the GMAT is a good measure of where people are applying. There's been a big spike in GMAT scores being sent to business schools in Asia.

"Asia is on almost an exponential growth pattern," says David Wilson, President and CEO of Graduate Management Admission Council which owns and administers the GMAT exam.

It's not just westerners but also an increasing number of Asian test takers who are applying within Asia. Wilson says a majority of Asian test takers (67%) are still sending their scores outside of Asia to international business schools but that number is down 4 percent in the past four years.

Wilson also notes an interesting subtrend. A good number of Chinese applicants are "returnees" – those people from Asia who immigrated to the west and who are now coming back. Since they are bilingual, they are also highly marketable in mainland China.

Salaries: Show me the money!

When applicants research MBA programs, they no doubt want to know how much they can earn with a degree.

Most schools provide data on the average salary an MBA graduate earns after finishing the program.

The Financial Times ranks global business schools every year. Most of the top ten schools ranked by the FT this year show average salaries between $140,000 to 160,000 per year.

The only Asian school in the top ten was Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), which is also affiliated with Kellogg in Chicago. The average salary at HKUST was lower than the other ranked schools at $115,000 per year.

The associate dean of  HKUST's MBA program, Steve DeKrey, cautions applicants to put this number in perspective. "We send a lot of people (graduates) to China. Salaries haven't caught up yet so our average is going to be a little low. If you stay in Hong Kong? Sure, it'll be a little higher. If you stay in finance? Higher yet. So there's a range."

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