So, why NOT HKUST?

I have earlier talked about the benefits of taking a full-time MBA at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) here. Though many of the points are still valid seven months into the program, there are also harsh realities that I’ve discovered on my academic journey. To balance off all my praises for the program, here are a few reasons on why NOT to take your MBA at HKUST (and forgive me if I do really manage to offend anyone): 

1)      Let’s do the math. HKUST still does not have a large number of alumni in its database given its small class sizes.

INSEAD which is based in Singapore graduates around 500 students per half a year. That’s the reason why they have what they crow is a network of 20,000 alumni all around the world. HKUST on the other hand merely graduates around 115 students per 16-month cycle. Although there are still part-time support (200 students per cycle), the numbers are still meager compared to other programs that have 500 to 1,000 students per cycle. 

An alumni network does have their numerous benefits. In fact, many students prefer to go to schools where they can expand their networks. I personally came to HKUST not because of the network per se (as I strongly believe that networks can be found anytime, anywhere especially when you start working), but there are still people who believe that a strong, large alumni network is their golden ticket in finding the career that they want. Personally, I like HKUST’s alumni network: it’s small, cozy yet strong and supportive. However, if you’re expecting a number over 5,000, then you may be better suit to go for a larger number program.

 On the plus side, given that class sizes are smaller (e.g., there are 115 students in my program), you do really get to know and work with most of your classmates. This experience is unlike others where you don’t even know that you’re going in the same school! 

2)      Career-switchers beware: the MBA Career Services still have much improvement to do.

It’s been said that Harvard University has hired career counselors for the MBA students with the sole purpose of finding each and every one a stellar “Harvard-worthy” job. HKUST does not have this luxury. Yes, our MBA Career Services is nice enough and they do their best. However, the initiative is still too young to provide much help in your career search. Sure, there are career writing, interview, personality workshops available and wonderfully set by the office. However, if you are waiting for job offers to be lined up one after another, all because of what the MBA Career Services can give you, then unfortunately you’re barking up in the wrong tree. 

In short, job hunting is really majorly your effort, and not anybody else. One classmate managed to get an IBD offer from a tier-one investment bank after jumping from the consultancy field all because he attended the Training the Street Workshop in November and studied the financial modeling books available during his Christmas holidays. All of this was not because of the MBA Career Office. He had tried his luck in sending his CV via the traditional channels, succeeded in the interviews with his own efforts, and got the offer because of all the blood, sweat and tears that he went through.

In the end, jobs in China are still majorly limited to Mandarin speakers. If you can speak Mandarin, the higher the chance that you can get a better offer. Those who speak only English may find themselves quite limited in their job selections in Hong Kong but can happily find a good start of their career in Singapore where language is not as important. Harsh, but it’s just the truth. 

3)      The quality of students still largely vary, and you may find yourself stuck with slackers who wait till the very last minute to give their parts, if any.  

Given that we’re a small program, you will still bump into many people with varying priorities. Some may find career switching to be their priority. Others may want to have fun in Asia and LKF. Some don’t even do any work, and make life difficult for their groupmates. You wonder how they managed to get in. People tell you that that’s how the real world actually works (Note: I completely disagree. Many of these people would NOT last a month in banking, and yet, many of them want to switch to finance). 

A professor once wisely said that no matter which program you choose, 5% are terrific, 15% are above average, 60% are average and 20% are just blah. The same goes for HKUST. True, everyone is just wonderful people. The school really makes a big effort in finding nice, competent, diverse group of students to join the program. However, if you’re looking for alphadogs who are ambitious, aggressive and extremely competent, refer to the ratios I gave above. If you are looking for friends for life however, then HKUST is a great school to be in. Overall, the program churns out good graduates who can pull a mean analysis and presentation depending on who you compare themselves to.

4)      If you can only eat Western food, you might starve a bit or be hassled to travel 10 by bus 10 minutes away in Hang Hau MTR station. 

I know someone who could only eat Western food. We do have around three large cafeteria available that serves Chinese congee, roast duck, Japanese rice dishes, Thai dishes among others, there is only three options for those who can eat only Western food: the Coffeeshop, Unibar (yes, we do have our own bar that sells alcohol), and McDonalds. If you are the type who likes Western food and variety, then it’s highly likely you might find yourself starving a little bit more.

Then again, beggars can’t be choosers. If you’re coming to Asia to live, then you really should be open minded enough to also be open to the food. 

5)      Not all professors are created equal. And yet, overall, the professor quality was as great as I’ve expected so don’t be dissuaded. 

I’ve already taken a few classes already. Mostly I was impressed but there were a small handful of professors that were just blah. You wonder why they’re still teaching as it’s a waste of time to take their classes if it’s better to just read a book. Fortunately, these professors are actually quite rare in HKUST. In fact, I do strongly believe that even in other programs, you’d have a few professors who were blah too. In HKUST, these come far and between and overall, am happy with the elective selections and professors. 

6) Although the campus is beautiful, it’s still in the middle of nowhere.

To get to campus, you have to take the MTR (subway) to Hang Hau, take a 10-minute bus and walk up to the school. From Central, the trip will take you an average of 1 hour. If you took a taxi from Central, it will cost you HKD160 to HKD180 depending on toll fee. That’s expensive if you accumulate the costs! From the Kowloon MTR station where you get off from Airport Express, that’s HKD100 a taxi ride one-way.

Point is, it’s not too close to Central, which can be a pain especially if you have classes on the Central campus. However, if you like to be insulated from the outside world as you start your journey, then this is a great place to be.

Don’t worry if you think I’m bad mouthing the school. I am not. In fact, come to think of it, I think I’ve made a good investment in HKUST. I will however offer an update on the positives of HKUST in a future date just to balance the negatives out. There are many so do watch out for it. 

Meeting the parents tomorrow. Wish me luck. Happy weekend!

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19 thoughts on “So, why NOT HKUST?

  1. Hey, you are a very interesting person.
    I am still having doubts over my studies in UST.
    Care to meet up over a coffee session in the campus?

  2. Do you attend BYOB (be your own boss seminar)?
    I am attending the upcoming session this coming Tuesday.
    I have graduated from Singapore. I have better choices in Singapore to do my PhD. The remuneration compensation was and will be so much higher as compared to in HK, if i continue my future in Singapore. Moreover, the first month I arrived in HKUST, the instructors (professors/dr and etc) and the students think that the school which I have attended has better reputation than UST. And some of them even applied to the institution in Singapore, and have failed to be join. They asking me why am I here for these 2 months……I have great doubts for the past 2 month.

    Shld I apply to a better school in the states/europe or stay in Singapore. Or shld I venture into the industry. I feel that UST reputation is not recognized as yet (after joining them). I need to think of the future, when I have graduated. And, most importantly, how long will I take to finish. I came here partially because I thought I can definitely finish within 2.5 years, based on my capability (and the school website did state this). However, pace is slower here. And it seems that the school does not want students to graduate too early. I can definitely graduate much earlier in Singapore, with better payout, and will a school that is well recognized around the world (I think so far, after coming to UST. I did not know then).

    Do not want to reveal too much detail at this blog.

    1. SK, I am freer in the morning. How about meeting 10:30am in the coffeeshop? Can u please send me ur email so I can SMS you my mobile. Thanks!

  3. It will take me an hour to get back to campus. Do you live in the dorms sk? I can meet at 845pm at skcc

  4. I am living in the dorm. Tower Block B. Thanks a lot, bonita.
    U living in hall rite?
    Take your time.
    Maybe around 9.45 instead?


  5. Im joining the HKUST MBA program this year and I sure am looking forward to your post on the positives since this post has left me questioning my decision!!

  6. PK, there are tons of positives. Just a matter on whether you’re coming here for all the right reasons…

    1. Bonita! Thanks for your post.I have question for you.
      what salary should I expect if I have an engineering degree + 8 years of work experience and a masters in economics from Canada and I do the mba in 2016 in HKUST? is it still gonna be the declared annual base salary of 110,000$?

    2. Forgot to mention that Im a foreigner and fluent in Chinese. will be 35 when I start the mba (is that an issue? will I be too old?)

      1. Rohit, more an issue now. Why pay the same salary to a non Chinese speaker if you can have a Chinese speaker and most of your clients are from Mainland China? That said, my groupmates did eventually find work in Singapore. All depends on your persistence and especially competence.

        35 is too old to maximize an MBA Serge. Those who can use it best are those in their mid 20s. Not that being 35 is a bad thing. A lot of companies will still value your previous work experience and maturity. However, by late 20s, I was already earning usd 100k or more a year if you include bonuses. Am MBA will give you around that salary range upon graduation (AVP or AD level). No point to get an MBA if you’re earning at least 100k a year. Get an EMBA instead. Luckily HKUST has the world’s #1 EMBA program. 🙂

        Btw serge, if you have a masters and 8 years of work experience, what do you still need an MBA for? You should be ale to monetize on your assets already and don’t need a degree to up your salary?

  7. Hi Bonita,
    Great reading your blog. Very helpful when one is trying to zero down on colleges to apply to.Would you say that your views on the career centre have changed in the last 3 years? Also, how much of an issue is mandarin today?


  8. Hi Bonita,

    Im an incoming mba student at the hkust. Can I ask you some tips with regard to the program itself? Im also a filipino chinese and can relate to most of the concerns you had during your stint.

    1. Just have fun. Take courses you like but never miss courses by Mr. Rao. He’s the best. Do an exchange in a school you love. Went to LBS and loved it!

  9. Hi Bonita,

    I’m sorry for commenting on such an old post.
    I’ve recently applied to HKUST and I’m a bit skeptic about the dorms on campus.
    I noticed that the campus residences don’t have individual apartments. In a sense that, I can’t have my own little bedroom, with my own bathroom and kitchenette.

    Can you confirm this? I really don’t want to share a room, nor a bathroom.

    Best Regards

    1. Students have their own room, albeit a small room (HK rents are high!). The bed is enough for just one person, and there’s a closet and a table for you to study in. The bathroom is to share. So is the common area where the pantry is located.

      Your option if you don’t want to share a bathroom is to rent off-campus. A lot of my classmates did so. There’s a lot of places available in Hang Hau Station. Some classmates took this option.

      Personally, I like the current format — it promotes students interacting with each other more. For one, the dorm is cheap and two, it’s great to live with your classmates. Lots of opportunities to do some bonding. Classmates who lived away from campus felt a bit left out. They are always the last to know the news, and didn’t experience the closeness as we’ve experienced living together in a dorm. Also, most of the student work happened in the dorm’s pantry so it’s a hassle to go home and take a 15-minute bus ride to Hang Hau when you have a headache and exhausted.

      Hope this helps!

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