International applicants have a hard time getting into b-school

Sad but true, data shows that international applicants have a relatively harder time getting into MBA programs than other applicants.

Taking data from 45 top U.S. MBA programs (as ranked by Businessweek), we compared the percentage of internationals among MBA applicants to the percentage of internationals among enrolled MBA students.  As it turns out, the discrepancy is significant.

While approximately 50% of applicants are international, only 30% of enrolled students are.  Holding everything else equal and assuming an average acceptance rate of 30% across MBA programs, this would imply an acceptance rate among international students of only 18%.

That’s quite a disadvantage.

But before we cry “Discrimination!” let’s think about other possible causes for this.

  • Language barriers: Unfortunate but inevitable. Since we’re looking at English-language programs, insufficient command of the language could place international students at a disadvantage.
  • Lower performance on standardized tests: While the purpose of the GMAT is to create a level playing field to compare candidates on at least one metric, its format is very “American.”  Due to its strictly timed, multiple choice format, it demands quick and intuitive answers rather than deep and complex thought, which can be jarring to non-U.S. applicants raised on different educational formats.  On a personal note, as an Italian I spent all my life learning to answer long essay questions given ample time and room for thought, and effectively tackling multiple-choice problems is a skill that took years for me to master.
  • Limited understanding of the admissions process: While in the U.S. the MBA admissions process is very well understood, that is not the case everywhere. This may lead international applicants to make tactical mistakes in their applications such as applying in later, more competitive, rounds, or choosing the wrong schools (too competitive relative to their scores and profile, or simply a bad fit).
  • Cultural differences: A mismatch of cultural and business values might lead international applicants to emphasize personal qualities in their applications that they deem valuable, but that admissions committees don’t.
  • Lack of resources: While the internet has dramatically leveled the playing field by providing worldwide access to admissions-related resources, MBA applicants outside the U.S. may still have a harder time discovering and acquiring the wealth of resources available to them.  The cost might even be prohibitive for people in certain countries.
  • Insufficient capacity for MBA demand: One possibility is that there is simply not enough capacity among U.S. MBA programs to accommodate worldwide demand.
  • International applicants apply to more schools: Perhaps due to the knowledge gap issues described above, international applicants may be less confident about their chances of admissions, leading them to apply to more schools each than their U.S. counterparts.  Ultimately, they can only be enrolled in one school, so the excess applications may be filtered out through lower yields than through lower acceptance rates.

Chances are, the truth lies within a combination of all these factors.

They also reveal areas for improvement in the MBA admissions experience for international applicants.  Applying to business schools outside your home country provides all sorts of challenges — from parsing through cultural differences, mastering unfamiliar test-taking strategies, finding the right resources to help you, and figuring your chances of acceptance at various programs and where you might fit in.

An important part of our mission at Apply in the Sky is to help rectify these problems and level the playing field across borders.  Our tools are affordable and available worldwide, and they use the power of data and technology to help applicants navigate what is otherwise a very complicated, disjointed, and often mystifying process.

We welcome any ideas for tools to make the experience easier for applicants everywhere in the world.

This entry was posted in Acceptance Rates, Admissions, Apply in the Sky, Business School, Data, International, Studies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to International applicants have a hard time getting into b-school

  1. Sam says:

    Hi guys

    I think these numbers are potentially misleading. For some countries, I agree you are significantly disadvantaged in your application, but not in others. The majority of these large numbers of international applications likely come from China, India and South America. I would venture that as an international student, say from Holland, Ethiopia, or Australia, you would have a much easier time getting in. The diversity goals of business schools apply not only to international students as a group but within the international student group. So I would venture – apply away, my international friends! But if you’re from a country with a huge number of applicants, just know that you’re going to need a 780.


  2. Chiara says:

    Yes, I think that’s a very good point. The disadvantage is likely concentrated in countries that have a disproportionate volume of MBA applicants. Of course then for them the disadvantage is ever worse. I think the capacity issue is very real, and short of, say, building more business school, it’s a hard one to solve.

    At the same time though, while coming from Europe or Latin America might help one’s application, I do think that international applicants, especially those coming from non-English speaking, have obstacles to overcome that their U.S. counterparts don’t experience.

  3. Pingback: Top Posts of 2010 | Not another MBA admissions blog

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