How Does the MBA Application Process Differ for International Students?

How Does the MBA Application Process Differ for International Students?

Most of the world’s top MBA programs have a strong proportion of international students. For example, at Stanford Graduate School of Business, around 42 percent of their current MBA cohort are international, and at London Business School a huge 90 percent of students are from countries outside the UK.

The benefits of undertaking an MBA program abroad include an instantaneous global network to develop, plus access to higher ranked schools with better standards of teaching in some instances. However, the application process can be significantly different for international students. Read on to find out what to take into consideration, and our advice for international MBA applicants.

How should I choose which school to attend?

Don’t base your chosen schools solely on rankings. It’s more difficult to visit foreign schools, so research the school culture and consider what elements are most important to you, such as a city or a campus institution, a one- or two-year course or a summer internship.

Try and connect with current or former students from your home country on programs you’re interested in. Not only will this demonstrate your commitment to the admissions board, but it will also give you a perspective on the school from someone from home and may indicate how good a fit the program will be for you.

Consider the educational style of the country you want to study in and how it differs from your own. For example, in the US, class participation is a huge part of teaching (and often a final class grade), whereas this is less vital in other countries.

If you haven’t lived abroad before for any significant length of time, think about how you will deal with homesickness. An MBA is a stressful, intense period and you need to be sure you can cope with this without your support network and home comforts.

Think about whether you want to study internationally full-time, or if a home-based program with options for modules or semesters abroad would suit you better. You can also consider joint MBA programs, where the teaching is split between two or more countries.

How does the application process work?

Like all MBA applicants, international or domestic, you have to submit official university transcripts from all graduate/postgraduate institutions you hold a degree from. However, if your transcripts aren’t in English, you will need to send certified translated copies as well as the originals.

Make sure you convert your grades to the grading system for the country the program is based in (i.e. GPA in the US), or, explain as best you can how grading is different in your home country. It really makes a difference- for example, in many US undergraduate programs a test grade of 70 percent equates to a low GPA of around 1.67, whereas in the UK, a 70 percent grade is a First- the highest level of grading in the university system.

The majority of MBA programs are taught in English. If English isn’t your first language (and if your undergraduate degree was in a language other than English), you will be required to demonstrate English language proficiency, generally through submitting TOEFL or IELTS test scores. Each school will have different requirements, so check on their application pages to see the minimum accepted scores. However, you typically need to score at least 6.5-7.5 in all sections for the IELTS, and 80-110 in the TOEFL.

Choose your recommenders carefully - explain to them exactly what is required in their letter. If they are non-native speakers of the language of your program, make sure their letter makes sense or also send a translated copy.

Make sure you’re very well organised in planning your application. As well as collecting documents and preparing essays, international students need to consider time differences, translations, and possible international travel for interviews and campus visits. If possible, apply in the first round. Applying in later rounds can lead to issues while sorting your visa and funding as decisions from schools can take months.

You’ll be in a much better position as an international applicant if you have previous professional or academic experience abroad. It’s also worth mentioning if you have experience working with international teams in your home country or online.

Don’t be afraid to highlight how your culture and background makes you unique in application essays. Most applicants will have good professional experience, and high grades and test scores so use your international status to your advantage.

How should I find funding for my MBA?

If you’re an international MBA applicant, you will need to think more carefully about sources of funding, as often you won’t be able to apply for state-funded loans. International students in the US are ineligible for government funded loans, grants or aid – check with your university to see if you’re eligible for loan packages (or scholarships) offered for international students.

In the UK, students from outside the EU aren’t eligible for government funded loans, so will have to explore alternative funding options. EU students are eligible for tuition fee loans from the UK of between £4,625 to £9,250 (US$6,032 to US$12,065) [for the 2019-20 academic year].

International students should be aware that scholarships for international students are competitive and limited, so you should apply promptly. You can also explore sources of funding in your home country and elsewhere – the website scholars4dev has a great list of international MBA scholarships. Plus, QS offers a range of scholarships for students across the globe, you can click here to find out more.

What are the visa options for studying abroad?

Depending on your chosen study destination and home country, you may require a student visa to complete your studies. These will vary between countries, but the requirements for two of the most popular study abroad countries, the UK and the US, are as follows:

United Kingdom

United States

  • EU nationals studying in another EU country won’t need a visa, however with Brexit, there is uncertainty about how long this will continue for EU students studying in the UK.
  • The UK student visa for students from non-EU countries is a Tier 4 visa.
  • The earliest you can apply for a Tier 4 visa is three months before the start of your course, and it will usually take around three weeks to receive the decision.
  • You can arrive in the UK up to one month before the start of your course, and how long you can stay will vary depending on personal circumstances.
  • You will be eligible to work most types of jobs alongside your studies.
  • The cost to apply for a Tier 4 visa is £348 (approx. US$455)
  • The US student visa is the F-1 visa.
  • Once accepted by your school, they will send you an I-20 application form.
  • You must take the completed form and your passport to a US embassy or consulate. You will then need to fill out an ‘Affidavit of Support’ form which proves you have the finances to fund the duration of your stay.
  • Visa processing times will vary.
  • Unlike in the UK, the rules for working with a student visa are much stricter. You won’t be able to accept any employment outside campus for a period of nine months, and even with on-campus jobs you can’t work for more than 20 hours a week.
  • You will generally have a visa application interview.
  • The application fee is US$160. Some nationalities will have to pay an additional issuance fee.

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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