width=200Polina Kurbashkina's MBA application was accepted at ten UK and two Spanish business schools. She tells TopMBA.com how she made the decision to study at IE Business School in Madrid for her MBA.

Aside from ensuring her business school was well placed on internationally recognized rankings, Polina's main criterion behind selecting her school was the opportunity to apply without submitting a GMAT score. I didn't have time to pass it, the Russian MBA graduate explains. I was applying for my MBA quite late, in the summer of 2007 and I could only be enrolled in the same year, so I looked for schools that didn't strictly require [a GMAT score], she admits.

Business school criteria

However, Polina claims that didn't restrict her choice too much, despite her final school having to meet additional requirements. I composed a comprehensive table with European full time MBA programs from different schools with their characteristics and my requirements, she says. I wanted a program that had a good standing in the Financial Times, Economist and other international rankings. One that wasn't longer than one year and one that I could begin in 2007. I needed a course that wasn't too expensive, or one with additional grants. The school had to be in a central, city location and give me the opportunity to learn a second language.

With that list in hand, along with a President's scholarship from the Russian Ministry of Education, she enrolled in her MBA at IE Business School. It was the additional grant that IE gave me that finally determined my choice, she explains.

Scholarships and grants

Polina is a firm believer in applying for grants and scholarships for MBA study. I would never recommend doing an MBA without sponsorship, either from the school itself, from a private company or any other external source. You should start the process [of applying for scholarships or grants] at least one year in advance and justify why you need such a scholarship... Participate in the QS World MBA Tour as they distribute many grants and scholarships, as do other similar events.

Polina feels that taking a loan for an MBA program is a far riskier approach. The MBA has always been a risky investment. You never know in advance if you are going to be able to recoup your investments at all.

Although one and a half years have passed since graduation, my current salary is still on the pre-MBA level, but I believe the benefit will come in the next three to five years. She adds, moreover, my present job in the developing Russian venture industry completely fits to my b-school's majors in innovation and entrepreneurship, which paved my way into private equity and venture capital specialization.

Exchanges and internships

Polina values her time spent in the MBA classroom and Madrid in general. I had access to new knowledge, subjects, expertise and experience, plus the widest of opportunities to travel, work and study worldwide during my MBA program. I partook in an exchange program to the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, USA and an MBA internship at Deutsche Post in Germany.

One point that Polina is keen to get across to future MBA candidates is to ensure they do their research on potential business schools. One should know about visa and job permit regulations before starting any MBA, she points out, highlighting the fact that while some foreign students may wish to work in the country they graduate in, visa laws may prevent them from doing so.

However, Polina still wishes she looked into what an MBA qualification would bring her when she returned home. Although an international MBA degree is still disregarded in Russia, I believe it will bring me measurable benefits in the future.