3 Ways to Be a Strong International MBA Applicant
Applicants should connect with current students from a similar background, experts say.
The U.S. is a popular destination for those from around the globe who want to pursue higher education, and prospective business school students are helping lead the trend of studying in the U.S.
Fifty-two percent of prospective students for graduate business programs attempted to study outside their country of citizenship, up from 40 percent in 2010, according to the most recent data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. This growth is seen mostly among Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern citizens, the report states, and the U.S. is the top region of choice.
"Schools want diversity in their programs. You want people from all different places," says Erin Town, director of MBA admissions at University of Washington's Foster School of Business.
With such a strong interest in U.S. MBA programs from overseas candidates, getting into school is often a competitive process for international applicants. Business school admissions experts offered these three tips to help prospective students improve their chances of getting accepted.
1. Connect with current students: Prospective MBA candidates interested in Foster, which typically has between 30 and 35 percent of full-time MBA students who are international, should try to speak with current students from a similar background, says Town.
"If you can talk with someone who's from your home country and get a feel for their experience here, what they like about the program, how they're spending their time," and then mention the conversation in an application, she says, "that really impresses us and shows us they're very interested in Foster."
When 30-year-old Ting Tseng was applying to business school, speaking with students helped her decide which program to attend.
"I talked to several Foster alumni, and they were all very helpful and willing to share," says Tseng, a first-year MBA student at the school who's from Taiwan. "I only spoke to alumni from Taiwan."
Tseng was able to reach people who had attended Foster through referrals and an admissions service she used to help with her graduate school applications. Other prospective students, however, may speak with current students or alumni through school-facilitated meetings.
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"We do live streaming of information sessions hosted many times by students from those regions, talking about their experiences on the campus, the journey to UCLA Anderson, best practices for applying, career opportunities," says Alex Lawrence, assistant dean of MBA admissions at the University of California—Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management.
At Anderson, about 31 percent of full-time MBA students are international, with many coming from India and China, he says.
2. Show passion: MBA programs heavily weigh applicants' GMAT scores and undergraduate GPA, but it's not all about the numbers.
Prospective students should reveal some of their personality when seeking admission, says Rob Weiler, associate dean for full-time MBA programs at Anderson.
"One of the most important things about Anderson is the depth and breadth of our community here, and we like people who've really dug deep and gotten interested in things and can be enthusiastic about talking about those things in the classroom," he says.
"We want it all to be driven by the candidate’s passion, but there are strategic things that one can do if they’re missing certain parts of their application," Weiler says. "For example, some people might be in a job where they don’t get to develop their leadership skills very directly. But if they’re involved in an organization outside of work and they are able to take on a leadership position on the board or something, that can help us better understand their leadership currently and their leadership potential going forward."
3. Strengthen English skills: Many applicants from abroad may not speak English as a first language, making it critical that they sharpen their English reading, writing and speaking skills to succeed as an applicant and an MBA student.
"We recommend that people use every opportunity they can to improve on those English skills," says Megan Waite, associate director of admissions for graduate programs at Washington University in St. Louis' Olin Business School, which had an enrollment of about 35 percent for international students in its last cohort for full-time MBA students.
"They can do things such as speaking groups, Toastmasters, watching English television shows or movies. Essentially anything that allows them to hear or read English, or speak with native speakers is going to help them along the way."
Tseng, from Foster, used a similar approach for honing her English skills as an MBA applicant.
"I joined an English conversation class every week to practice my English speaking ability," she says.
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