International applicants can contribute a lot to business schools given their perspective and experience in certain regions of the world; however, through my work with international applicants, I have noticed four areas in which international applicants tend to falter the most when applying to business school. These four areas are outlined below.
Lack of extracurricular activities
Many international applicants, having grown up in environments where academics and strong professional experience are emphasized, lack engagement in extracurricular activities where they have had meaningful impact. Many international applicants are under the impression that with strong undergraduate grades, a high GMAT/GRE score, and strong recommendation letters, they have a great shot at being accepted to top-tier MBA programs. Unfortunately, that is not enough. It is extremely important for all applicants (including international ones) to become involved in extracurricular activities in leadership roles and demonstrate impact. By doing so, international applicants will be ahead of their international competitors.
Not drawing upon unique personal experiences and perspectives
Through my experiences, I have seen that international applicants tend to focus more heavily on their professional experiences in the essays (and often it's just a rehash of their resume); this is likely due to cultural norms where sharing personal stories is frowned upon. While professional achievements should be highlighted, it is just as important to highlight personal experiences as well. Admissions Committees want to understand your values, motivations, and what has shaped you; these elements can often help an international applicant stand out from the crowd. For example, did you overcome or learn how to manage a health issue? Did you face resistance in areas of your life because of your gender? Did you go against cultural norms to achieve your goals?
Generic recommendation letters
Often because of cultural norms, recommendation letters from international applicants tend to be more generic and muted. However, the reality is that MBA programs are accustomed to hearing more glowing language that is supported by specific examples. International applicants can guide their recommenders so that the recommendation letters are more in line with what top-tier business schools are expecting and looking for.
Narrow school selection
International applicants tend to choose schools solely based on brand. While this is understandable, it's important to broaden the schools to which you are applying given how competitive the MBA admissions process is. Think about your post-MBA goals and research multiple MBA programs. Outside of the M7 (the top seven schools), there are fantastic schools that will help you attain your goals and will be great fits.
By being aware of these four common mistakes, you will be in a better position to navigate the application process as an international applicant.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.