U.S. Business Schools Roll Out the Red Carpet for International Applicants

MBA Admissions ConsultantAn article in last week’s Wall Street Journal wrote about a trend that we’ve seen unfold over the past year or so: After seeing years of seemingly unstoppable growth in the number of overseas applicants, many U.S. business schools now see increasing competition coming from MBA programs in other countries. For many U.S. schools — especially those outside of the top five or top ten — having a thriving contingent of international students is a sign of the school’s credibility worldwide, and these schools are working harder than ever to maintain a healthy international populations in its student body.

Why the drop in international enrollment in U.S. schools? The article names three reasons: the surge in quality and prestige of many schools abroad, the stubbornly soft U.S. job market, and the high cost of earning a degree at an American school. The three have combined to form a perfect storm that has stopped what once seemed like an irresistible wave of international applicants.

Note that this trend hasn’t hit the Harvards and Whartons as much as lower-ranked schools. The former have brand names that applicants always are eager to associate themselves with, no matter where they’re from or what the cost may be. But while applicant in India may have done anything he could to get into any well-respected American MBA program ten years ago, now he has the Indian School of Business (among others) to consider, plus a job market in India that’s at least as promising for a newly minted MBA as it is in the United States.

In response, many U.S. schools have stepped up their recruiting and marketing efforts to prevent themselves turning into schools that only have regional appeal. The WSJ article cites the efforts of Vanderbilt (Owen) and U. of Washington (Foster) — two great schools that just don’t have the worldwide brand recognition that Harvard does — to send more administrators, students, and alumni abroad to spread the gospel about their programs. It even mentions the efforts of some higher-ranked schools, such as Ross, to step up recruiting in regions where the school has rarely recruited applicants before.

What does this mean for you? If you’re an American applicant aiming for one of these schools, don’t worry that you’re now that much less attractive to admissions officers. Your competition still primarily comes form other American applicants, regardless of how many international applicants there are. If you’re overseas and are considering a U.S. school outside of the those schools at the very top of the rankings, this could represent a small leg up in what has been an increasingly competitive field over the past decade. If the soft U.S. job market hasn’t scared you away and you can make a compelling case for why Owen or Foster (or any other program) is where you want to be, admissions officers are likely to be a little bit more interested in your application this year.

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