Playing The International Card

When Geir Bore, a McKinsey & Co. consultant in Oslo, Norway, was looking at a business school to attend two years ago, his first choice was to study at a U.S. school. But his knowledge of the MBA market in America was scant.

So he ended up applying to only four U.S. schools: Harvard, Wharton, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, and Cornell University’s Johnson School. He added one European option as a safety school: Iese Business School in Spain.

Passed over by Harvard, waitlisted at Wharton and accepted by his other choices, Bore trekked to Charlottesville, Va., to attend the Darden School last year. He says his expectations have been vastly exceeded by Darden in both the quality of the faculty and his fellow students, along with the opportunities that came his way. He did his summer internship at Goldman Sachs and already has a job waiting for him at McKinsey which will reimburse him for his entire tuition.

In retrospect, Bore says he wished he had known that most of the students in the leading U.S. schools had four years experience rather than his two. If he did, he might have taken up a possiblity with McKinsey to work for the consulting firm for an extra year in Malaysia. He also wishes he had a better knowledge of which companies recruited at the different schools, and what schools were known for throwing a lot of work on students. and which schools were known as party schools.

Bore, of course, isn’t alone. Many international applicants have only a bare bones knowledge of the biggest and most influential MBA market in the world. And the most important information they can have is hidden in the class profiles of the best schools: it’s how many students from each region of the world are enrolled in the full-time MBA programs of the best schools.

A new analysis by Poets&Quants, however, casts new light on the admission policies of the leading business schools that could significantly shift the odds in favor of some international applicants at leading MBA programs.

Many of these schools are trying to increase the percentage of students who hail from international locales. But they are also trying to balance students from diverse parts of the world. Some schools are clearly over represented by students from some world regions and under repesented in others (see table on next page).

Consider Asia. The business school reporting the most students from Asia is Indiana University’s Kelley School with 33%. By way of comparison, Stanford is on the low end of these leading schools with 11% and Harvard is next with just 13%–well below the 18% median. So U.S. business schools below the median representation of Asian students will be far more likely to be receptive to increasing their invitations to applicants from that region of the world.

Or consider Europe. The business school among these leading MBA programs reporting the most European students is Columbia Business School in New York with 13%. Harvard is next with 10% and Berkeley is third with 9%. The median for this group of schools is 6%. So following the same logic, qualified European applicants who apply to schools below the median number could well have an advantage over others.

The leading U.S. schools with the highest representation of Latin American students are Chicago (10%), MIT Sloan and Berkeley Haas (9%), and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business (8%). Below the 5% median for this group of elite schools are Harvard (4%), Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business (4%), New York University’s Stern School and Virginia’s Darden School (3%).

Often, the biggest drawback many international applicants face is the language barrier. At the Darden School, where class participation accounts for half of your grade in a course, the admissions staff demands a mastery of the English language–not merely fluency.

  • Johann,

    That’s what I suspected. Sadly, most of the best full-time MBA programs feel that someone who will be 44 or 45 at graduation is so outside the MBA sweet spot that they won’t take a chance on you–no matter how qualified you are. Do let us know how things turn out. And for a very good overview of this issue, see “Am I Too Old To Get an MBA?”

  • Johann Adler

    You may be right about the age factor (although, as you know, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age in educational programs, but of course the schools would not admit that that is what they are doing. If the issue becomes pervasive, a lawsuit may be in order). I am 42. I have applied to other schools and have not heard from all of them yet. Unfortunately another experience of mine belies the oft made claim by some schools that they read applications very carefully. I was informed by Darden that while they were impressed by my application, they would interview me for their Executive MBA program and not for the Full-Time MBA to which I had applied. As an international applicant who is a career switcher and who has never been an “executive”, this has dumbfounded me. Unfortunately, I suspect that many applicants will have similarly negative experiences in the admissions process. My story is not over yet, I will be able to reach a fuller picture when I get all my decisions.

  • Johann,

    Thanks for weighing in with your story. If I had to guess why you weren’t accepted, I would immediately focus on age. How old we’re you when you applied? And did you apply to a lot of other schools or just UT-Austin?


  • Johann Adler

    I am dubious of the reasoning in this article. I am an MBA applicant from Europe, with an BA from an Ivy League university, and a GMAT of 750, and I got rejected from Texas-Austin which has 0% European students. You may think that my case is an anomaly, or that my application has significant weaknesses, but you would just be assuming that with no evidence. I am afraid the MBA admissions process is very opaque, and the statements by the admissions officers regarding how they evaluate applications are not at all accurate. I believe that they are very formulaic in their approach which hurts non-traditional candidates like myself; I have a doctorate in humanities and was a university professor. That is propably the “weakness” in my application!

  • Josh

    Hi, thanks for this analysis. I may have missed it, but many of these parts don’t equal the total. What is the difference? (E.g. Stanford’s total is 32% but the components total 25%. What is the 7% delta?)


  • “So U.S. business schools below the median representation of Asian students will be far more likely to be receptive to increasing their invitations to applicants from that region of the world.”

    I agree with Alois that the logic behind this statement doesn’t seem to work.

    One could argue that state schools have the most incentive to increase their foreign enrollment because state budgets, which are pretty tight these days, don’t have to subsidize them.