A Global MBA: Applying to International Business Schools


A Global MBA: Applying to International Business Schools

October 31 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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Are you interested in a global career or becoming a leader in your home region? Pursuing a global business education can be a significant advantage. An increasing number of U.S. applicants are earning their Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees abroad. Prestigious institutions like London Business School, INSEAD, and IE Spain offer excellent MBA programs that enhance learning experiences and long-term career potential.

Historically, U.S. business schools were seen as the best globally. However, over the past decade, international MBA programs have caught up and even surpassed many respected U.S. programs. This shift reflects the efforts of international schools and the emergence of new economic powers needing globally equipped business leaders. Additionally, visa-tightening policies in the U.S. make international programs even more appealing.

Advantages of Attending a Top Non-U.S. Business School

There are a number of key reasons why savvy applicants should at least consider top international MBA programs, whether in their home region (for non-US applicants) or elsewhere. Here are just some!

  1. Broader Network Benefits: International programs offer access to a wider, more international network, often with regional strengths (e.g., Europe, Southeast Asia, Middle East). Attending an MBA program in Europe or Asia allows you to join an alumni network with a global presence.
  2. Regional Opportunities: Some business schools have campuses in multiple regions or ties with MBA programs in other countries, including the U.S. This provides the best of multiple worlds.
  3. Shorter Duration: Many non-U.S. MBA programs are only one year long, ideal for students returning to the same firm post-MBA or taking over a family business. These programs are also more cost-effective than traditional two-year U.S. programs.
  4. Lower Costs: International schools often have lower tuition costs, reducing financial pressure. Additionally, completing a quality MBA program in one year lowers the overall expense compared to a two-year program.
  5. Mature Cohort: The average age of students at top non-U.S. business schools is 2-3 years older than at U.S. schools, beneficial for more experienced applicants.
  6. Diversity: International institutions offer greater diversity in both student population and global perspective, preparing students for success in the global marketplace.
  7. Career Growth: An MBA from a non-U.S. business school offers greater opportunities to find employment in the international sector.
  8. C-Suite Positioning: Global experience is increasingly necessary for joining the C-Suite at many U.S.-headquartered corporations. Companies favor applicants with international backgrounds and experiences.

Applying to International MBA Programs

Applying to a non-US MBA program certainly has many advantages, but also comes with unique challenges and concerns. Engaging an admissions consultant who has had success advising US applicants to non-US schools, and who may even have attended one, could be extremely valuable to your admissions campaign.

Let’s focus first on how the application process at top non-US programs can be more appealing than that of US programs:

Rolling admission

While most US business schools follow strict application deadlines, many schools in other countries offer longer, more fluid application windows that can reduce stress and improve application quality. With rolling admission, candidates can apply any time during the window. Adcoms then review applications as they are received and promptly communicate decisions.

Self-Expression Opportunities

Most US MBA programs require applicants to answer specific essay questions that may constrain the chance to fully communicate the unique attributes they bring to the table. By comparison, many non-US schools let candidates select from a set of questions the one or two about which they feel most passionate, and offer longer word-count limits to tell their story.

Lower Average GMAT Scores

Leading European and Asian programs tend to admit classes with lower average GMAT scores. While many non-US programs may accept lower standardized test scores, they’re more discerning in gauging the “international” perspective and potential of applicants. 

So, an admissions campaign with compelling essays, recommendations, social profile, and interview performance can be even more essential at such programs. 

Key Questions for International MBA Applicants

Identifying and addressing a set of core questions in advance will help make even the most “worldly” MBA admissions campaign more manageable. Here are six key questions for international MBA applicants to consider.

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 Poets and Quants. 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 goals. 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.

3. What Are the Visa Challenges? 

Background checks, photos, fingerprints, proof of funds, proof of enrollment, proof of housing, embassy and consulate visits, personal interviews, references, and more. 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. 

4. What are the Post-Graduate Benefits?

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. 

5. 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. 

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 and addressing each decision with clarity and determination, the knowledge, perspective, and relationships acquired abroad will become lifelong assets.