International MBA applicants to top programs frequently ask how much they should focus on their home countries in their applications, versus demonstrating their similarities to the typically-admitted domestic student. This is a good question, as balancing between fitting in with one’s target MBA program and standing out by bringing something unique to one’s application is a line that all candidates tread carefully.
An international applicant will usually have more materials to consider adding to their application, given the experience of growing up, studying, and working in another country. Even for second-generation immigrants, the wealth of influences and heritage from another culture could be a rich source of essay topics and passing references to consider. Used correctly, they add character and breadth, enhancing the readability of an application, which can help a candidate stand out from a competitive pool of other accomplished applicants from the same industry and country.
If you are applying to business school as an international applicant, take a look at these three factors you should focus on in your application:
MBA essays are best used to tell a unique personal story that allows readers to understand the candidate’s motivation and goals. As an international candidate, you can use your country’s economic, cultural, or even political situations as an interesting and complementary backdrop to further stand out.
Let’s look at some examples of how this can be done:
- An applicant managing a business from a growing consumer market could be played up to show the candidate’s potential to be a bridge for companies seeking to enter the lucrative market. This would flow nicely into the applicant’s post-MBA goal of leading a global company’s international unit.
- An applicant who navigated and hurdled a developing country’s political and regulatory challenges to successfully lead a large-scale project of a foreign entity could use this experience to demonstrate his or her maturity and leadership qualities.
- Candidates from a country encountering great difficulties could position themselves as people who are in a unique position to give back to their country of origin post-MBA, while also helping open the eyes of the student community to global issues.
These experiences show the potential of candidates to serve as a resource for interesting classroom discussions, enriching the experiences of classmates, while also serving as a future bridge to alumni with interest in their respective countries.
Likewise, a sentence or two identifying strong core values and influences that defined a family’s history and how it inspires the applicant serve she dual purpose of showing a personal side to leave a vivid impression with the Admissions Committee, and demonstrating the candidate’s underlying motivation and personal traits. Executing this precisely will result in a profile that comes across genuinely and stands out from the pack.
Applying the right dose of details and balance between personal sentiments and professional rationality on these topics is key in ensuring your essays stay unique and on track.
2) International Exposure
For international candidates who spent most of their lives in their home countries, it is particularly helpful to mention experiences with exchange programs, international assignments, travels abroad, or at the minimum, working with cross-cultural teams. These do not necessarily have to take up major space – sprinkling in tidbits at appropriate instances will still make for an interesting and engaging read. It also helps demonstrate an international mindset, adaptability, and intellectual curiosity.
Instances of initiating projects and leading teams with international components are also valuable, as these will help show the ability to actively contribute to classroom discussions and group project dynamics. Showcasing your teamwork skills via an international setting in this way will assure the Admissions Committee that you will be able to adjust to life on campus, benefit from their program, and contribute to the experiences of your MBA peers.
The content and tone of your overall application should be confident that you are an excellent fit for the program, able to keep pace with the academics and classroom rigors the school requires, and maximize your overall experience. Coming from an environment, school, or firm that is different from the usual sources of MBA candidates, you must ensure that confidence in your intellectual horsepower and personal traits comes through, especially in your essays. Standardized measures, such as a great GMAT score, will also help address this.
Crafting such an application requires honest reflection and self-awareness – most applicants find themselves more focused and motivated after investing the time and effort to do so, thus making the whole exercise a valuable experience, so be sure you take ample time to reflect before beginning your writing process.
Creating a personal story while highlighting your successes handling complex projects or academic accomplishments, and combining this with a post-MBA goal that is both compelling and realistic are the usual ingredients for a strong application, and adding the right international flavor to this recipe will help your candidacy shine even more. Finding the right flow between answering the specific questions directly and adding international elements may be challenging, but successfully pulling it off will result in a very personal and powerful application package.
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Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.