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Language Requirements for MBA Admissions Around the World

Business is global – are you making the most of it by expanding you language skills?

Language skills and international awareness are among the top things employers look for in MBA hires, according to the QS MBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2015/16. As such, MBA prospects, regardless of which language(s) they already speak, may want to consider MBA destinations that are more likely to help them build on their language skills and better prepare them for working in new markets, and by extension, find success in an international career. Additionally, bilingual candidates could use this to their advantage in MBA admissions by targeting programs with language requirements they already meet. To begin with, let’s take a look at MBA admissions language requirements at some top schools around the world. 


It is perhaps no surprise that programs in popular study locations, such as the UK, US, Canada and Australia, teach programs in English, and as part of MBA admissions use tests like the TOEFL and IELTS to ensure incoming international students meet English-language requirements. One Canadian exception is HEC Montréal in Quebec, which offers a full-time and part-time MBA in French, Canada’s second official language and the province’s sole official language. These programs require a TFI (a French-language proficiency test) for all ‘non-francophone’ students. HEC Montreal does also offer a full-time MBA in English, and offers a four-week immersive course over the summer for students who wish to brush up on their French before classes begin.

ESSEC recommends a similar scheme for international students attending classes at its campus in Cergy, though the MBA has no mandatory French requirements as it is taught in English. US MBA programs - even in states in which the Spanish language flourishes, like Florida - deliver their core curricula solely in English, with some schools also offering executive programs in Spanish; one example is the University of Miami, which offers the Executive MBA for the Americas, which is primarily aimed at professionals looking to work in Latin America or to conduct business with the region. At other schools, like McCombs School of Business in Austin, Texas, students can take foreign-language electives, aimed at students who want to challenge themselves or round out their communication skills, especially if they are pursuing an international career.

Language requirements might also exist as part of the MBA admissions in markets where English is not the primary language spoken, such as for many business schools in Latin America, which primarily conduct their courses in English. For example, Central America’s INCAE and FGV in Brazil require students to provide minimum scores on the IELTS or TOEFL for their English-language programs. EGADE in Mexico delivers their MBA in both English and Spanish, however only asks for proof of proficiency in English as it primarily targets domestic students (90% are from Mexico, with the rest predominantly coming from Latin America), according to their school spokesperson. ITAM and IPADE are the same, offering electives in Spanish while conducting the core curriculum in English.

A number of other programs on offer in Latin America are taught in Spanish and cater primarily to the regional market.  However, even here, there may be English-language teaching components, as in the example of the Advanced MBA at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, which requests students to prove “mid-level English level” proficiency so that students can partake in an international seminar in the US or UK, which is conducted in English. Ingeniería Industrial Universidad de Chile requires a TOEFL or IELTS for the same reasons as well. IAE in Argentina has language requirements for both Spanish and English as MBA classes are taught in both - with aptitude proven not only through minimum scores on the TOEFL or IELTS, but also in final admissions interviews conducted in both languages.

In Asia, the English-language MBA predominates. Therefore, those applying to programs available at business schools in places such as China and Japan will be asked for standardized test scores to satisfy English-language requirements. However, learning the local language during one’s studies can also be crucial if an international student wishes to pursue a career at their MBA destination after graduation. Although proficiency in Mandarin is not essential to gain admission into a program in China, top business schools commonly run mandatory Chinese-language training as part of the MBA experience. CEIBS, for example, requires a one-month immersion summer course for students with no prior experience with the Mandarin, as basic competency is compulsory.


Regardless of the destination or program expanding one’s language skills could be one aspect of a carefully planned and successful international MBA career, whether working in new markets or with international teams. Business is global – are you making the most of it?

Visnja is a content specialist with a background in marketing and communications. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia and a master's in publishing from Simon Fraser University. Her interests include media & technology, personal growth, health & wellness, and innovation, topics that stay top of mind in her writing.

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