How to Get Into a Top MBA Program as an International Applicant

How to Get Into a Top MBA Program as an International Applicant was originally published on Leland.

International applicants bring a wealth of diversity and unique perspectives to MBA programs. But, the path to a top-tier U.S. business school requires a thorough understanding of certain key elements. Here are five main areas international applicants should focus on:

Start Early

Unfortunately, as an international applicant, logistical challenges such as visa regulations, time zone differences, financing your MBA, networking, school visits, as well as language tests are going to add a layer of complexity that US-based candidates do not have to deal with. You can make these headaches slightly easier to deal with by starting the MBA application process early – this gives you time to attend more school events, network with current students and alumni, retake tests if needed, and eventually, work on some of the logistical things you’ll need to do post-admission.

If you start early enough and get your application submitted for Round 1, there’s another benefit available – potentially more scholarship money available to be doled out!

Lean Into Being International and Leverage Your International Experience

Your professional journey, when framed effectively, can be a key differentiator. Top U.S. MBA programs value international applicants’ abilities to bring unique perspectives and insights from their diverse work environments and countries. This involves understanding global market dynamics, navigating different business cultures, and dealing with diverse teams. Use your application to demonstrate your ‘cultural agility’ – a blend of awareness, understanding, and comfort with a variety of business cultures. If you have such experience, discuss examples where you overcame cross-cultural challenges or used a unique cultural perspective to solve business problems.

Build a Compelling Narrative

For international applicants, the essays and recommendations present an opportunity to weave a compelling story that not only shares your career journey and future aspirations, but also your personal growth and character. Your narrative should clarify why you need an MBA from an American institution, how it aligns with your career goals, and what unique aspects you’ll bring to the classroom. Remember, the admission committees value authenticity and well-articulated aspirations. For recommendations, choose those who can comment effectively on your professional prowess and personal traits.

As an international, you could lean into some of the challenges your country or a subset of society in your nation faces by showing your interest in that field and tying it to your post-MBA goals. However, please remember to be genuine as AdComs can spot an incoherent story from miles away.

Example: Say you are from a developing nation and are interested in starting a sustainable CPG firm back home in the future. Tie your past work, current role, extracurriculars, short-term goal, and the MBA into this ideal. You could lean into the fact your country is far from being in an ideal position and a short-term stint in product management in a top US firm will, in the long run, help you develop the necessary skills and network to tackle a larger problem your nation faces.

Establish a Strong Connection

Networking might seem daunting from afar, but in the digital age, opportunities to connect with U.S. schools have grown. Attend virtual information sessions, webinars, and online networking events. Join MBA events such as Leland’s MBA Week to connect with admissions consultants and coaches and utilize LinkedIn to connect with current students and alumni.

Demonstrating your genuine interest in the school and making efforts to understand its culture can significantly enhance your application’s credibility. Make sure you spend time connecting with international applicants who have a similar background to yours or who share a career trajectory that you aspire to. These folks will be more than happy to help guide you and share details of life at your target school.

Practice Language and Communication

Most international applications will need to take the TOEFL to demonstrate proficiency with the English language, so make sure you set out enough time to practice and do well on these. In addition to language proficiency, you should also focus on improving communication – practice active listening, asking good questions, sending thank-you notes, etc. These little things make a difference in how you are perceived after each interaction, so always put your best foot forward!

The path to a top-tier U.S. MBA as an international applicant is a unique journey that requires strategic planning and attention to detail. By effectively leveraging your international experiences, crafting a compelling narrative, addressing logistical challenges, and building connections with your target schools, you can greatly enhance your chances of admission at top business schools!

I was an international applicant myself and have helped numerous international students navigate the MBA application process and would love to work with you on Leland. I encourage you to set up some time for us to chat. Let’s get you into your dream school!

About the Author:

Lex Sodipe obtained his MBA from Yale SOM and has worked in investment banking, private equity in New York, and in technology at FAANG. Originally from Nigeria, he has worked for over three years to help prospective candidates gain admission into top schools. He’s a professional coach on Leland and is passionate about sharing his strategies and helping the next generation of talent successfully apply and get accepted to the best business schools in the USA. Lex lived in Beijing for seven years where he learned Mandarin and obtained his undergraduate degree from Beijing University of Chemical Tech. In his free time, Lex loves to watch and play soccer and is an Arsenal fan.