The Biggest Mistakes Made By International Applicants to U.S. MBA Programs
“You need to wow them!”
Most consultants give that advice for applying to business school. “You need to stand out,” they say. “Be memorable.” And that’s true. But getting into a good MBA program takes more than strong marks and big plans. It also entails how you present yourself, connect personally with adcoms, and lead with your most marketable assets.
That, in a nutshell, is the general advice given to international applicants by Shawn O’Connor, founder and CEO of Stratus Admissions Counseling, a top admissions and career consulting firm for graduate students. A Harvard MBA, O’Connor has, in his own words, “helped hundreds of international applicants from 32 countries gain admissions to the top U.S. business schools,” including Stanford, Harvard Business School, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, MIT, and Booth. In his experience, he has noticed that overseas students struggled with these five areas on their applications:
1) Emphasize GMAT Score Too Much: A strong GMAT score will get attention, but it won’t necessarily merit an acceptance letter. In the United States, adcoms generally take a broader view of an applicant’s value and potential, particularly in areas like work experience, outside activities, career plans, and life story. According to O’Connor, “To be competitive at the top schools, you ideally want to be in the 680-730 range. After 730, your chances of admissions improve only marginally, if at all.” If you fall within that range, you’re better off focusing on your essays and references.
2) Get Personal in Your Essay: It is much easier to write a detached recitation of facts. But it is also less effective. Adcoms want to know your unique story, how your experiences ultimately shaped your path and character. In O’Connor’s experience, you need to “open up” about who they are, what’s important to them, and why.
How do you do that? Here’s an example from O’Connor’s practice:
“One of our most successful applicants at Stratus Admissions Counseling was an Indian male engineer who, at our insistence, wrote about persuading his in-laws to accept him as the groom of their daughter. This essay demonstrated empathy, communications skills and the ability to forge compromise (all core business skills illustrated through the lens of a personal narrative). He was admitted to MIT Sloan notwithstanding a GPA far below the school’s mean.”
3) Emphasize Professional Development in Your Volunteer Work: Helping the less fortunate is noble and puts you in a good light. And it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. But adcoms are looking for more than just a good heart. According to O’Connor, “…schools really want to see leadership through your community work. It will be far more impressive if you are on the junior or young professional board of an organization and/or help spearhead an impactful initiative than if you simply directly serve the poor weekly or even daily.” In short, use your service time to further develop your strengths, particularly in the area of leadership.
To learn about how application practices that hinder international students, click on the Forbes link below.