Overcome Stiff B-School Competition as an International Applicant

Overcome Stiff B-School Competition as an International Applicant The number of international students applying to MBA programs in the United States has tripled over the last thirty years. Take Harvard Business School for example, the school reports that in 1985 their international bids made up 13% of their application pool. In 2015, the number of international applicants to HBS increased to 34% of the total application to the school.

Over the last five to ten years, there has been a notable surge in international applications to MBA programs. This is especially true of candidates from countries such as India, China, and Brazil. India alone has experienced a 24% increase in candidates taking the GMAT in the past five years and Brazil a 37% increase. Since 2010, there has been a 90% increase in the exam being taken in China. We can derive a similar jump was experienced in MBA applications for these countries.


MBA programs located in the United States continue to seek top international candidates to bring a truly global mindset to their business schools. However, the competitiveness from this surge has been compounded by a desire from U.S. employers to maintain a significant portion of U.S. citizens and green card holders. This is due to the complications and costs of obtaining visas for foreign students who wish to remain in the U.S. Over the last decade, I have seen and I have personally worked with many international applicants who were successful in the MBA admissions process. In order to achieve the same success, employ some of the following tips.

1. You should differentiate yourself from other applicants from the same region and similar professions. When applying to business school, you are not competing against the entire pool of applicants, instead, you are competing against applicants that are most similar to you. I recommend that you emphasize your personal story in your essays—adding detail that is relevant and sets you apart. Also, develop and maintain your activities outside of work that can help to individualize your profile, particularly from candidates in your region.

2. In a similar line, be sure to customize all parts of the application. You want to design the application essays, recommendations, and interview to fit each school to which you apply. At Stratus Prep, my team of admissions consultants work with candidates to ensure that each application answers the questions, “Why this particular MBA program?” and “Why now?”

3. Hire an expert admissions counselor, based in the U.S., who has had successful experiences with thousands of international applicants. Research the companies well and choose an advisor with a proven understanding of international applicants; don’t allow yourself to settle for less experienced professionals, as roughly 60% of successful applicants use a consultant during the application process...


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