The Five Worst Mistakes Made by International Applicants to U.S. MBA Programs

May 6 2014, 12:12pm CDT | by

Last year, the Stratus Prep MBA Admissions team and I helped hundreds of international applicants from 32 countries gain admissions to the top U.S. business schools, including Stanford, HBS, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, MIT and Booth. In the process we saw (and

helped our applicants avoid) the five fatal pitfalls that I am excited to share with you here.

1. Focusing Too Much and For Too Long on the GMAT. There is no doubt that the GMAT is an important component of your MBA application, but it is most definitively NOT the most important component. Since many international students hail from cultures where acceptance to elite academic institutions is determined solely by standardized test scores, they make the mistake of assuming that the same is true in the US. It is not. For example, the Stratus Prep team and I had students admitted to HBS with GMAT scores as low as 590 last year, and we had four over-represented males from finance (perhaps one of the most competitive applicants pools) admitted to HBS with GMATs of 680 or less. Think of the GMAT as a threshold. To be competitive at the top schools, you ideally want to be in the 680-730 range. After 730, your chances of admissions improve only marginally, if at all, by further increasing your GMAT score. Focus on the other aspects of your application.

2. Make Your Essays Personal, Not Simply a Regurgitation of Your Resume. As a result of very understandable cultural differences, many international applicants are hesitant to share information about the personal or family background in their MBA essays, either because they believe this information is irrelevant or they are simply uncomfortable sharing it with strangers. American admissions readers, however, seek to get to know your inner motivations and core values through your essays; these are very difficult to understand if you are not willing to be open personally. One of our most successful applicants at Stratus Prep was an Indian male engineer who, at our insistence, wrote about persuading his in-laws to accept him as the groom of their daughter. This essay demonstrated empathy, communications skills and the ability to forge compromise (all core business skills illustrated through the lens of a personal narrative). He was admitted to MIT Sloan notwithstanding a GPA far below the school’s mean.

3. Coach Your Recommenders Regarding American Expectations. In many parts of the world, from Europe to Asia, recommendations are expected to be very realistic and even humble in their assessment of you. To do otherwise would alienate the reader of the reference letter and may even be laughable. However, American application readers expect grandiose statements, such as “Joao is the most capable analyst I have worked with during my 20 years at McKinsey,” and they expect this evaluation to be reinforced with powerful, demonstrative examples. For example, we had an Asian client this year who previously had not been admitted to any of his top ten choices. After my colleagues at Stratus Prep and I worked with him on his essays and educating his recommenders, he was admitted to numerous top 7 schools, including Kellogg, his top choice school.

4. Volunteer Work is Not Just About Helping the Poor. When most applicants start their work at Stratus Prep they erroneously believe that schools want to see community service to know that they care about the poor. While service to those less fortunate is certainly laudable in and of itself, the schools really want to see leadership through your community work. It will be far more impressive if you are on the junior or young professional board of an organization and/or help spearhead an impactful initiative than if you simply directly serve the poor weekly or even daily. Remember getting into a top business school is about demonstrating that you are a future globally-minded leader. Be sure to demonstrate that in your extracurricular work as well.

5. Create a 1-Page, U.S.-Style Resume. So many of the resumes that I receive from prospective Stratus Prep clients are far too verbose and include significant information MBA admissions readers do not care to see. Cut out your personal details (including date and place of birth, marital status, etc – leave only you phone, email and address) as well as your photo. Eliminate all high school awards and grades (no one cares anymore). If you are a technical applicant, remember that you are applying to a generalist program so remove all the technical jargon and certifications, as these will only confuse the reader. Whenever possible, clearly state you impact with quantitative evidence.

These are just the five most common and most egregious mistakes that my fellow admissions counselors at Stratus Prep and I have witnessed over the last MBA admissions cycle. Getting into a top American MBA program as an international applicant is becoming increasingly difficult as the pool of talented applicants rapidly grows, which may explain why almost 60% of MBA applicants now seek professional admissions advisors.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Global entrepreneurship summit boost for SMEs
Marrakech, Nov 22 (IANS) Nine agreements were signed between the Moroccan General Confederation of Enterprises (CGEM) and several small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as between major Moroccan banks and start-ups at the 5th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2014) held in Morocco.
 
 
NASA's flying saucer among 'Best of What's New'
Washington, Nov 22 (IANS) NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), a spacecraft that aims to facilitate the safe landing of future Mars missions, has earned a place in the the Popular Science magazine's "Best Of What's New" list.
 
 
Indian helping to light up Gambia (Diaspora Feature)
Banjul (Gambia), Nov 22 (IANS) Like many Indians who are proving to be philanthropists around Africa, Ram Mohan has set up a social business called Comafrique Intelizon Initiative and has embarked on the replacement of candles in villages in the Gambia with solar lights from India.
 
 
Leopards in human areas not conflict animals: Study
New Delhi, Nov 22 (IANS) Leopards in human areas are not always "stray" or "conflict" animals but residents with strategies to thrive in human dominated areas, says the first GPS-based study of leopards in India.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

US condemns Kenya bus attack, terms it 'horrific'
Washington, Nov 23 (IANS) The US condemned "in the strongest terms", the attack on a bus in Kenya that killed 28 people, terming it as "horrific". The US extends its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Heidi Montag wants to age gracefully
Los Angeles, Nov 23 (IANS) Singer Heidi Montag, who has undergone ten cosmetic procedures, says she wants to "age gracefully". The 28-year-old singer discussed about her wish with Extra, reports contactmusic.com. The...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kourtney Kardashian hints at Scott Disick split
Kourtney Kardashian has hinted her relationship with Scott Disick is on the rocks. The reality television star has been dating the 31-year-old hunk since 2006, but posted quotes from the Disney film 'Lilo & Stitch'...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kelly Brook engaged again?
Kelly Brook has sparked rumours that she is engaged again. The model - who will turn 35 on Sunday (23.11.14) - was seen sporting a huge jewel on her ring finger at the Teens Unite Charity Ball at Underglobe in London...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Heidi praises Spencer for 'best 8 years of my life'
Heidi Montag has praised Spencer Pratt for the ''best 8 years of my life (sic)''. The former 'The Hills' star gushed over her beau in a message online on Friday (21.11.14) to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary....
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Bahrain sees 51.5 percent voter turnout in national elections
Manama, Nov 23 (IANS) Bahrain registered 51.5 percent turnout in the parliamentary and municipal elections Saturday, notwithstanding the opposition's call to boycott the elections. "The turnout today was 51.5 percent...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Black Friday 2014 Sales and Deals for 11/22
Friday was already a wild Black Friday 2014 sales day with $115 40-inch TVs and other hot doorbuster deals that Walmart matched. Saturday has not these dramatic deals like on Friday. There are still though plenty of...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
I was original: Aniston on Kardashian's nude picture
Los Angeles, Nov 23 (IANS) Shunning the hype around reality TV star Kim Kardashian's derriere picture, actress Jennifer Aniston says she bared her derriere way before Kardashian and it was original. Aniston posed nude...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Davis Cup final: Switzerland nudges ahead with doubles win
Lille, Nov 23 (IANS/EFE) Superstar Swiss duo of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka put their country ahead in the Davis Cup final with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over the French pair of Richard Gasquet and Julien...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Former police official arrested over students' disappearance in Mexico
Mexico City, Nov 23 (IANS/EFE) A former deputy police chief and suspected member of the Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors") drug cartel, that allegedly, is involved in the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico...
Read more on Politics Balla