6 Key Questions for Applicants to International MBA Programs

It’s challenging enough to apply to the top business schools in your own country. The competition for admission is fierce. The process of preparing applications is stressful. However, if you’re among the thousands of future MBAs who are considering international business schools, then you’re facing additional challenges that might discourage those not totally committed to taking this journey.

That said, identifying and addressing a set of core questions in advance will help make even the most “worldly” MBA admissions campaign more manageable:

1. Where should I apply?
Building your target list of schools outside your native country can be more difficult because the data and descriptions vary widely. A good place to start is by reviewing the annual rankings of programs as published by reputable sources, such as FT.com’s combined global list and PoetsandQuants posting of US and non-US schools. You can narrow the possibilities by choosing schools in only those countries offering the academic concentrations that relate to your past, present and/or future. You can then drill down into the respective websites of the potential programs and initiate an email dialogue with the admissions and career services staff to pose your questions and confirm a match.

2. Will I “fit in” there?
You might be fascinated by a particular setting, culture or nationality without ever having visited there yourself. However, what might seem appealing could turn out to be overwhelming, and vice versa. For international applicants the time and money required for campus visits is often prohibitive. So, how can you assess in advance how you would fit in if you were to enroll? Well, reaching out to current students and recent graduates who share your background and interests is both reliable and cost-effective. Some online searching on LinkedIn and Facebook is likely to produce the names of individuals who worked at the company that employs you or attended your undergrad alma mater. Approaching them as a prospective applicant and leveraging your affinity to get some straight answers about what it’s REALLY like to attend their business school is a very wise move. In addition to getting the inside story, you may also be launching relationships that prove invaluable during and after your MBA studies. Finally, working with an admissions advisor who has lived and/or worked in your native country can be a big help.

3. Can I get admitted if I apply?

This is the same question that domestic applicants ask, but the answer can be even more difficult because the standards for admission can vary so widely among schools in different countries. So, before you invest time and effort in preparing a lengthy application, we encourage you to get a free, expert evaluation of your candidacy from a source that is highly knowledgeable about top MBA programs and the countries in which they are located. (Here at The MBA Exchange, our team features multi-lingual, b-school alumni and former admissions professionals who live in 11 countries on 4 continents!) That way, you’ll know in advance how the admissions committee at a distant business school will view your candidacy.

4. Are there other challenges – like getting a visa – to consider?

Background checks, photos, fingerprints, proof of funds, proof of enrollment, proof of housing, embassy and consulate visits, personal interviews, references, etc. The amount of “red tape” that international applicants face before they can enroll in business school varies significantly by country and can be staggering. The process could take weeks or even months to complete, even without any surprises along the way. One thing for sure: exploring this aspect early is wise. You can begin with online searches to find bona fide resources like NAFSA. Investing in the expertise of a qualified immigration agency or attorney could prove very beneficial if you encounter bureaucracy along the way.

5. How will I benefit after graduation?
Astute applicants can confirm in advance that a significant number of graduates are being recruited and hired by industries and companies in which they would like to work. There are typically more constraints and barriers for students at international programs than domestic ones. Language requirements, visa policies, compensation and tax issues, and mandatory sponsorships are just some of the factors to consider. And it can be especially difficult to get a summer internship for students attending 2-year MBA programs. Again, your most reliable sources of data will be the career services office and recent grads of the targeted school.

6. How will I pay for it?
Regardless of location, attending business school is expensive. The vast majority of applicants need some additional funding beyond their personal savings to make it happen. Understanding the process for getting need-based and/or merit-based aid directly from a school requires a combination of research, persistence and luck! So, a large portion of admitted MBA students need to borrow money from other sources in order to pay for b-school. Navigating through the process to secure funds at the best terms and lowest rate can be even more difficult than getting admitted to b-school in the first place. There’s an emerging model that’s changing the game for international MBA students through a “community” platform. One highly respected firm at the forefront of change is Prodigy Finance, started by three INSEAD alumni in 2007. They provide loans to international postgrad students attending business schools outside their native country. With the blessing of top schools, alumni, institutional investors and private investors help current students earn expensive degrees in return for a competitive return for their funds. Win/win/win!

For most MBA students who take the leap and pursue their education at a b-school in a different country, the experience is enhanced and rewarding at every level. By thoughtfully mapping out the process, addressing each decision along the way with clarity and determination, the knowledge, perspective and relationships acquired abroad will become lifelong assets.