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The 10 tips international MBA applicants need to know

Admissionado - December 12, 2017

The 10 tips international
MBA applicants need to know

Congratulations on heading abroad for your MBA! An elite MBA in a new country is a great way to expand both your earning potential and your horizons dramatically. It’s also hard work. New food, new faux pas, new classroom expectations: even mundane tasks like going to the grocery store can become challenging… but also fascinating, exciting and far more rewarding than they would be at home.

Applying to an international MBA programme is very much like studying abroad itself: full of unexpected little challenges that will trip you up if you’re not prepared. To get in, international applicants need to understand that strategies for them are very different from those used by domestic applicants. You’re playing a different game, and you need to know the rules. Luckily, our amazing MBA experts are here to help. We’ve collectively worked on over 30,000 applications, over half of which were for students studying abroad. We’ve distilled those years of experience into our top ten tips for international MBA applicants. Let’s dive in!

Apply early

You have less time than domestic applicants, especially if you’re applying from a country where it’s difficult to get a US or European visa. It takes extra time to get the visa. It takes extra time to get the financing. Your plans have to be settled before you begin many of these processes, and the steps in each can be contingent on each other in unexpected ways that can dramatically slow your progress. You should apply in round one, you can apply in round two, but you should avoid round three if at all possible.

Be an applicant who’s more than just scores and grades

In a lot of countries, school is all about the numbers. In the US generally, and business school specifically, it's about a lot more than just classes and grades. It's important to show you aren't just going to sit in your room and study all day, but will be an active and thoughtful contributor to the community. This is especially important at schools like Wharton where a community of interesting and brilliant classmates is the major selling point. Admissions aren’t just about your GPA and GMAT—you need to show you’re a well-rounded and fully baked human. It might feel unnatural, but it's important to show a little personality (dare we say, soul…?) in your essays!

Find a trusted coach or MBA admissions consultant, not just someone from your country

Be cautious about reviews of your application package from other international MBAs. Just because a person is older, has a great job, and an MBA from your dream school does not mean he or she is great at evaluating potential MBAs (or their applications). The reviewer must be someone who understands what appeals to Americans or Europeans (especially the admissions committee). Peer feedback is helpful, but not enough by itself.

Meet with locals who attended (or attend) the MBA programme

Even if they aren’t the best essay reviewers, it’s still important to meet with alums in your region and make sure that they know that you love their school. They may be able to send the AdCom a quick email or reference letter explaining why you are a good fit for a programme. They can also help make sure that the school-specific terminology you use fits well and help you prep for interviews. Go to as many MBA events, conferences, and talks as you can while you are preparing your application. There are a lot of resources online, but they are no substitute for meeting alumni and admissions staff face to face.

Highlight your own culture in your international MBA application

International applicants shouldn't be afraid to talk about unique aspects of their culture and how it influences their professional and personal relationships. Our applicants have earned many brownie points by talking about family and background in the essays where they had the opportunity to say something personal and creative - which translated into acceptance. There’s a reason so many prompts ask applicants to get personal: AdComs find that perspective extremely valuable.

But also highlight your destination’s culture (and visit)

International applicants shouldn’t forget to demonstrate flexibility, understanding, and open-mindedness when encountering other cultures. For example, it is key to demonstrate knowledge of and familiarity with the “American way” when applying to American programmes - especially during interviews, and even more so when interviewing with AdCom members. A winning international applicant balances a unique cultural background with a sensitive, bias-free approach to other cultures. Make sure you’ve either visited or thoroughly researched the country where your target b-school is located. Accepting a foreign applicant who drops out after one semester is the most expensive mistake an AdCom can make; they need to be convinced that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into and will be able to adapt to their country. This is particularly important if you're leaving your home country for the first time.

Research employment laws and restrictions for internationals

Make sure you fully understand employment laws and restrictions in the host country; some have limits on work for students. In others, you have to leave the country the moment your programme ends. So make sure you understand what rights you'll have and whether you'll be eligible for a work visa post-MBA. One of the worst things you can do is spend an entire essay talking about post-MBA goals which are built around working in a country that won't allow you to stay!

International experience is important in your MBA application

It’s important international students have experience abroad. The best type of experience is international leadership experience, either as a job or on a project basis. For example, being sent to France for three months to lead a consulting team of ten would be awesome! If you don’t have an experience like that, study abroad or conferences attended also work. Tourist travel doesn’t count, because going on holiday doesn’t build the skill set that you will need to navigate a foreign country’s education system. The goal is to show that you can interact across languages and cultures, so experience working with multinational teams or in English can also work in a pinch, even if it took place in your home country or online.

Give context to your prior experiences and undergrad education

Don’t bank on the fact that the AdCom will be familiar with your undergraduate institution, particularly if you are coming from a huge country with lots of applicants (like India). It is up to you to show the AdCom how prestigious and tough your program was, by emphasising the ways in which your accomplishments while enrolled stood out on a national or international stage.

Consider the options for financing your international MBA early

To take advantage of a majority of loans in the US and many other countries you’ll need a domestic cosigner. If you don’t have one and the school doesn’t offer cosigner-free loans, think about the funding in advance. 

And there you have it—advice from the people who have done this 30,000+ times. Many of our team members were in your shoes not so long ago. Good luck!

About Admissionado

For the past decade, the team at Admissionado has worked on over 30,000 applications, helping MBA applicants from all over the world gain acceptance into top-tier, M7 MBA programmes like Harvard Business School, Wharton, Berkeley Haas, and many more.

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