The ability to work well with people from other cultures has never been more critical. In response, business schools have continued to deepen their focus on globalization. While most schools do not have an explicit international experience requirement, MBA admissions committees seek curious, open-minded applicants who are eager to learn about the world at large.
Having meaningful work, study, or travel experience outside your home country makes you more desirable as an MBA applicant. After graduation, these global experiences translate into marketable job skills. Think adaptability, leadership, cultural awareness, and communication and language abilities.
INSEAD, for example, lists “international motivation” as a criterion for admission. But this does not mean you have to live or work abroad before you can apply. Instead, it means you seek out and feel comfortable with people from many different backgrounds.
The INSEAD blog describes international motivation this way:
International motivation is not necessarily about how many countries you have lived in. It is about your willingness to adapt your communication style around different cultures, your motivation to want to explore them, and your desire to effectively collaborate with people who may be very different from you.
Here are two key reasons why there is an international experience “requirement” when applying to business school.
The value of diverse perspectives
Look at the demographics of any elite MBA program and you will see a considerable number of non-citizens enrolled. A cohort of students from an array of backgrounds, cultures, and languages enriches everyone’s experience.
Having a broader perspective of global business issues in your arsenal means you bring a unique viewpoint to class discussions and team projects. It also expands your network as you tap into professional associations with your contacts in other countries.
MBA applicants should highlight any experiences traveling, studying, or working abroad. Schools want to ensure candidates can actually thrive – not just survive – in the program and work well with a diverse group of classmates.
INSEAD notes that you can highlight your ability to navigate this level of diversity can in many different ways. For instance, working in a multicultural team or for a multinational company. Or, dealing with international clients. Have you learned a foreign language? Even a passion for traveling in your spare time counts at INSEAD.
Adaptability is a requirement of today’s jobs
Have you already logged significant international work experience or education before business school? If so, you are three steps ahead of the game. When you immersed yourself in another language or culture, you likely encountered some form of culture shock. This process ultimately becomes a valuable learning experience.
You demonstrate real leadership skills when you break through communication barriers. And when you learn how business practices work in an unfamiliar environment, you adapt to new social and business norms and go beyond your comfort zone. These skills are a crucial differentiator in a competitive MBA applicant pool.
International travel and work experience can also offer a wealth of material for your MBA essays. Often, such experiences will spur new career goals and a broader vision for your life.
But what if you haven’t traveled a lot? You can still meet the international experience requirement by highlighting instances where you worked with people from other countries and cultures. Can you take on a work project that puts you in contact with international offices or teams? If you have the time and resources, think about traveling internationally in the months before applying. Research international volunteer opportunities or continuing education study abroad programs.
Your application probably won’t get rejected because you did not fulfill the suggested international experience requirement—if every single other component is compelling and persuasive.
In your essays, reference your enthusiasm for the school’s diverse culture. Discuss your plans to take advantage of study abroad programs. Mention your desire to take part in clubs or student groups that will boost your cross-cultural awareness. As long as you can show you plan to expand your mindset and increase your international exposure during business school, you should be fine.