When Translators Make Sense For Applicants

A cartoon illustrating a traditionally-dressed Japanese woman and an anglo-businessman in a suit, speaking to each other through a hand-held electronic device that appears to be a speech-to-speech-translator.As difficult as it can be for an English-speaking applicant to get into a highly selective business school, it’s even more of a challenge for someone who isn’t a native English speaker. From taking the GMAT exam to writing application essays, it becomes a severe hurdle for many bright young professionals.

And since most top-tier business schools use English to teach MBA classes, admissions committees have minimum requirements for language competence as verified by standardized test scores. However, “competence” in English can be insufficient when an international applicant to a top-ranked MBA program wants to convey nuances and subtleties that make his or her candidacy unique and compelling.

“Many applicants — and their recommenders — who are not native English speakers face an immediate challenge that makes it more difficult for them to convey their story with the same clarity, confidence and impact as those who have stronger English skills,” says Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading admissions consulting firm.


All this raises an obvious question: Should a non-native English speaker get professional help and how do business schools view translation services?

Admission officials at several schools appear to recognize the benefit of engaging a professional translator for at least certain parts of an MBA application. Stanford Graduate School of Business, for example, advises recommenders to get help. “If you think your English is not sufficient to convey complex ideas, write the letter in your native language, and then have it translated into English,” the school advises applicants. “The translation can be performed by a friend, colleague, or a paid service — but not by the applicant or the applicant’s friend or family member.”

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business gives similar direction. “We understand if your recommender’s native language is not English it can pose some difficulty,” according to Booth’s application instructions. “He is welcome to use a translation service and submit that to us, in addition to the recommendation in his native language. We do have to have a version in English, and unfortunately, it cannot come from you as the applicant.”


For a future MBA seeking professional translation, there’s no shortage of resources.  A Google search on “translation services” yields over four million listings.  However, there have been no services that identify themselves as having experience and skills to help MBA applicants requiring a translator who understands both academia and business — in two languages.

The MBA Exchange has recently partnered with the VerbalizeIt translation service, founded by a couple of Wharton MBAs to assist non-native English speakers. The startup got off to a good start thanks to an appearance on ABC’s hit series Shark Tank. For the cost of 17 cents a word or $1.75 per minute of audio or video translation, the firm does translations very quickly in many different languages.

“What appealed most are Verbalizeit’s emphasis on preserving the true voice and quality of the client and their quick turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours,” says Bauer. “Verbalizeit’s quality assurance process is truly comprehensive — including back translation, spell-check, and formatting.  The clincher? Their co-founders CEO Ryan Frankel and COO Kunal Sarda are both Wharton MBA grads with first-hand knowledge of what B-school applicants want and need.”

Bauer says that Verbalizeit’s translation service for B-school applicants is differentiated from typical providers by specialized training provided by The MBA Exchange.  “This includes actionable insights and guidance on the priorities, sensitivities, and expectations of today’s MBA applicants,” adds Bauer, who says they are advocating the service not for essays but for recommendations and transcripts.  “The team serving MBA Exchange clients averages 6 years of professional translation experience.  Most members have master’s degrees, including an Ivy League MBA alumnus.”

For a limited time, Bauer said, new admissions consulting clients can receive a free trial of the Verbalizeit translation service.


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