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

Power outage across Bangladesh as national grid collapses
Dhaka, Nov 1 (IANS) Power outages Saturday hit several places in Bangladesh, including the capital Dhaka, due to the collapse of the national grid.
 
 
Drugs to abet cancer cells suicide found
London, Nov 1 (IANS) British scientists have found a drug combination that can trigger the self-destruct process in lung cancer cells -- paving the way for new treatments.
 
 
Climate change threatens global health security: UNEP
San Juan, Nov 1 (IANS/EFE) The rapid propagation in recent years of infectious diseases such as Malaria, Chikungunya and even Ebola is one more example of how climate change threatens global health security.
 
 
US-Japan joint rain radar mission to end next year
Washington, Nov 1 (IANS) After 17 years of groundbreaking 3-D images of rain and storms, the joint NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) will come to an end next year, the US space agency said in a statement.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Bharat-Nepal Shiksha Maitri Karyakram launched
Kathmandu, Nov 1 (IANS) In the line with the announcement made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the first week of August, the "Bharat-Nepal Shiksha Maitri Karyakram" for Nepalese students pursuing...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
1,273 people killed in Iraq violence in October: UN
Baghdad, Nov 1 (IANS) A total of 1,273 Iraqis were killed and 2,010 others were injured in terrorist attacks and violence in October in Iraq, according to a statement issued Saturday by the UN Assistance Mission for...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Sarah Hyland wants funny boyfriend
Sarah Hyland wants a boyfriend who can make her laugh. The 'Modern Family' actress, who recently secured a three-year restraining order against ex-boyfriend Matthew Prokop after claiming he abused her for four years...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kim and Kanye name new home after Downton Abbey property
Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian West have named their new home after the property from 'Downton Abbey'. The loved-up couple - who wed in Florence, Italy in May, and have one-year-old daughter North West together...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Nicki Minaj slammed for arriving six hours late for photoshoot
Nicki Minaj has been dubbed ''incredibly rude'' after turning up six hours late for a photoshoot. The 31-year-old rapper arrived at 2am to shoot photos for a future issue of Billboard magazine in New York, and has since...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Danny DeVito doesn't like One Direction, despite being in their video
Danny DeVito doesn't like One Direction, despite appearing in their video for 'Steal My Girl'. The pint-sized 'Matilda' actor featured in a clip for their new single which was unveiled last week, but explained that he...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Power outage across Bangladesh as national grid collapses
Dhaka, Nov 1 (IANS) Power outages Saturday hit several places in Bangladesh, including the capital Dhaka, due to the collapse of the national grid. Reports of power cuts were coming in from several other places...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Space plane crash: Sir Branson 'shocked' but to 'persevere'
New York, Nov 1 (IANS) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, was "shocked and saddened" by the news of the Virgin Galactic passenger space plane crash but said that he would "persevere". The space plane...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Drugs to abet cancer cells suicide found
London, Nov 1 (IANS) British scientists have found a drug combination that can trigger the self-destruct process in lung cancer cells -- paving the way for new treatments. The combination of two drugs, called TRAIL...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Boko Haram leader says kidnapped girls married off
Lagos, Nov 1 (IANS) The leader of the Nigerian Boko Haram insurgents, Abubakar Shekau, has in a new video said the over 200 abducted schoolgirls have been married to members of the group. The video, released Friday,...
Read more on Politics Balla