Scott Edinburgh
April 26, 2024

What If I Am an International Applicant to a US MBA Program?

International MBA Student

Each year, international applicants represent a sizeable percentage of Personal MBA Coach clients.

Clients often ask us if being an international student helps or hurts their chances of MBA application success and how they can maximize their chances of acceptance.

Q: Does Being an International Student Help My Chances?

A: This varies considerably based on the country you are applying from. Business schools are looking to develop well-rounded classes, which means you are going to be evaluated not just on your own stats but on how you add diversity to the class. For example, Wharton’s Full-Time MBA class of 2025 has students from 70 countries. Similarly, in Booth’s class of 2025, 49% of students were born outside of the US.

Top US MBA programs receive a large number of applications from certain regions, and if you are coming from one of those regions, your chances of success do decrease. It should come as no surprise that India is one such area. Conversely, there are many countries in which applying to business school, particularly in the US, is not very common. In this case, your odds of success are higher than those of US applicants. This can also change year to year!

For example, as Personal MBA Coach founder Scott Edinburgh recently shared in US News & World Reports, last year top programs were actually struggling to recruit students from China, given the lockdowns and test center availability.

Q: How Can I Stand Out as an International Student?

A: Regardless of where you are applying from, the best way to stand out is to develop a compelling and ownable personal story. Admissions committees want to know how you will improve the business world (and the world at large) when you graduate from their MBA program. They are also looking for evidence of how you will make your unique mark.

While doing something remarkable or overcoming a difficult situation can produce strong essay content, it is important to recognize that many applicants write successful essays without this type of material (in fact, admissions directors are discouraging applicants from being too dramatic with their writing, as Personal MBA Coach learned during the 2023 AIGAC conference in June—more on this here).

Most important is that your essays fit with your story and paint a clear picture of who you are as a student, classmate, employee, and overall individual. It is also important that your application shows you are aware of the realities of job searching as an international candidate. For example, if you hope to work in the US post-MBA, be sure that your target industry frequently sponsors H1B visas.

Not sure where to begin? Personal MBA Coach finds that personal story development is one of the areas in which clients require the most guidance. Find out how we help candidates craft focused, logical, and unique personal stories via our comprehensive services.

Q: Which Business School Accepts the Highest Number of International Candidates?

A: Candidates applying to US schools from other countries often want to know the best MBA programs for international students. At the top US business schools, international students make up a significant portion of the student body.

Yale SOM recently reported that 50% of students in the class of 2025 are international. Columbia Business School’s and Berkeley Haas’s most recent class profiles reported 47 % international students. MIT Sloan’s class of 2025 was composed of 40% international citizens.

Harvard and Kellogg reported 39% international citizens, followed by Stanford GSB and Chicago Booth (both 36%).

Please keep in mind that not all schools report class profiles the same way.

Q: Does It Matter if I Plan to Stay in the US after Business School?

A: The short answer here is no. Personal MBA Coach has seen no evidence of bias toward applicants whose goals will keep them in the US. While developing logical, compelling, and realistic goals is a crucial part of the MBA application process, no blanket preference is given to your future country of residence. Find out more about developing a compelling goal statement in this quick tips video.

For those who do plan to stay in the US after graduating from business school, STEM MBA programs give international students the chance to remain in the country and gain work experience for two years after their MBA studies are completed.

Q: What Should I Do if My GPA Is Not on a 4.0 Scale?

A: Nothing! Submit your GPA as is and DO NOT attempt to convert it. There is no agreed-upon conversion.

Q: Do I Need to Take the TOEFL?

A: Personal MBA Coach recommends that you check the specific test requirements of your target MBA programs. Generally speaking, candidates who did not attend an undergraduate institution in which the primary language of instruction is English are required to submit an English proficiency test.

Harvard Business School accepts the at-home or internet-based version of the TOEFL, IELTS or Pearson Test of English (PTE).

Other schools, like Chicago Booth, state that those whose native language is not English must also submit a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. Booth can waive the requirement if applicants have earned a degree from an institution in which English is the primary language of instruction, or if they are a permanent resident/citizen of a country in which English is an official language.

Q: How Do I Get a Visa?

A: International students who want to attend business school in the US must have a valid, up-to-date passport throughout the duration of their studies.

There are two kinds of visas for international students: an F1 and a J1 visa. To apply for either type of visa, students need to have been admitted to a US program of study.

The visa application process varies based on your home country and individual circumstances. F1 visa applicants will receive an I-20 form from their school to complete (J1 applicants skip this).

Applicants then complete their online visa application and schedule an interview at their local US embassy or consulate.

Are you an international candidate seeking guidance throughout the application process? Personal MBA Coach is here to help you maximize your chances of success.

Want to learn more about how Personal MBA Coach helps international candidates? Watch this testimonial from a client who was accepted to MIT Sloan and Duke Fuqua.

Ready to take the plunge? Check out how Personal MBA Coach can help you with our Comprehensive Packages.