7 Common Mistakes International MBA Applicants Make

international MBA applicants

International MBA Applicants: Avoid These Blunders

  1. Choosing business schools solely by their rankings
  2. Omitting unique personal experiences in essays
  3. Focusing too much on MBA message boards
  4. Failing to correctly translate/explain GPA and undergrad transcript
  5. Appearing uncomfortable with a new culture and language
  6. Failing to manage recommenders, especially nonnative English speakers
  7. Applying in round 3

Creating a robust and dynamic classroom experience through diversity is a primary focus of the top business schools in the United States, offering students the chance to interact with peers from an array of countries and professional backgrounds. Although international MBA applicant numbers dipped last season due to COVID-19, they still had a strong showing at top schools.

For instance, international admits made up a significant percentage of the 2020 incoming class: 33% at Harvard Business School, 35% at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and 44% at Columbia Business School.

Yet sometimes, lack of awareness regarding what a strong MBA application should include derails even the most stellar international candidates. With that in mind, international MBA students should avoid these seven common hurdles when targeting top-ranked U.S. business schools.

international MBA applicants

  1. Choosing business schools solely with rankings.

Campus visits are still impacted for all MBA hopefuls this cycle. But even under normal circumstances, many international students can’t visit every school in person due to financial or time constraints. Therefore, poring over published rankings is an obvious way to create a shortlist of target schools.

But don’t let this be your only method. While brand and cache carry a lot of weight worldwide, you need to look beyond rankings to find the programs that best serve your individual needs.

  1. Omitting unique personal experiences in essays.

In many cultures, sharing personal stories with strangers is taboo. International MBA applicants may feel strongly tempted to keep the focus solely on previous education and professional experience. That is a serious mistake. To stand out from the masses of similarly qualified applicants, you must focus your essays on aspects other than your quantitative or technical background.

The key to a successful MBA application is showing what you – and nobody else but you –bring to the program. Don’t be afraid to let your originality and true personality come through in your application materials. This article by Stacy will help guide you further on the essay mistakes to avoid.

  1. Focusing too much on MBA message boards.

It’s unsettling to be so far away geographically when you’re applying to business school. Naturally, the instinct is to seek out all possible news and information about your dream U.S. programs.

But local MBA websites and message boards can be rife with rumors and inaccurate information that can steer you in the wrong direction as you consider application strategies. Remember, only the AdCom truly knows about interview invites, acceptance rates, waitlists, or anything else of importance for prospective students.

  1. Failing to correctly translate or explain GPA and undergrad transcript.

This is a common yet complicated issue since there’s no universal standard to convert an international GPA to the American 4.0 system. Once you’ve translated your home country’s GPA using an online grade conversion calculator, assess whether it accurately reflects the rigor of your undergrad institution.

Variations in course difficulty can also lead to confusion. For some transcripts, a 75% would be equivalent to an American A-plus. At other, more difficult programs, a percentage as low as 60 would translate to an A grade.

If you feel there’s some ambiguity in this metric of your transcript, briefly explain any relevant information that would clarify its understanding of your academic performance.

  1. Appearing uncomfortable with a new culture and language.

Feeling comfortable working across cultures is crucial in today’s global business landscape. Make sure to highlight any previous study or work abroad experiences, and include examples of times where you have worked with people from other cultural or language backgrounds.

The ability to communicate effectively and fluently in English is also non-negotiable at top MBA programs. For this reason, several schools include a video interview question in their applications to verify candidate’s comfort with the language.

Enroll in conversation courses if needed and read business publications in English to bolster your vocabulary and increase fluency. Stacy Blackman Consulting offers an a la carte video interview/essay prep service that includes a professional review and written feedback.

  1. Failing to manage recommenders, especially non-native English speakers.

You need to convey to your recommenders the criteria for a successful letter of recommendation to a top business school. Otherwise, you’re left with well-intentioned but generic platitudes. These provide little insight into exactly what makes you a strong leader, team player, and an asset to the program.

Determine exactly what your recommenders should highlight and guide them by providing anecdotes or themes you’d like them to mention. If your recommenders are not native English speakers, make sure the letter is well-written or, if needed, translated into English.

  1. Applying in round three.

Round three is difficult to pull off successfully for any applicant. But international candidates should avoid this application cycle for a few practical reasons. Applying in one of the earlier rounds reduces the stress of managing this process once you’re already received an offer of admission and can apply for a student visa.

Also, the earlier you apply, the more time you have to secure and provide proof of funding, whether through work, loans, family, or other means. At some schools, scholarship offers go out at the same time as admissions offers. In these cases, more award funding is generally available the earlier you apply.

Planning, planning, and more planning are key to a smooth application process no matter where you are applying. But the logistics are even more critical for international students. Reach out to us today and learn how Stacy Blackman Consulting has helped countless international MBA applicants gain admission to their dream U.S. schools.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


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