The Mother of all International MBA FAQs: Dissecting the international MBA applicant profile

New York University’s Stern School of Business (Photo: skinnylawyer)

In the earlier two posts, there were several queries from puys on financing and scholarships. Its true that financing of education is an important detail especially for Indians earning in rupees. But before we move to those points it is also important to understand how admission officers in foreign b-schools review and analyse profiles. Just as admits are given based on the strength of the applicants profile, so are merit-based scholarship decisions. So lets spend some time understanding them, even if it might seem a tad too basic. Due to the length of the response, we are taking only one readers question this time, broken up into two parts.

Q1. saurabhnitt asked: Hi Sameer, I want to get into a b-school and switch my field. Currently Im working in operations, but want to go for an MBA in finance. What do Adcoms look for in a candidate in the selection process? How can we utilise this year for strengthening ones profile?

Almost all the good b-schools consider the following components in each application.

GMAT score: We covered this in the first post in this series. Indian candidates focus too much on GMAT scores. Why? Because we are (expected to be) good at it and the pressure comes from two sides the admissions teams and an extremely competitive peer group. The stereotypical profile of an Indian engineer with a high GMAT score isnt going away anytime soon. So polish your quant and verbal instincts up.

English proficiency: Some schools insist on a TOEFL or IELTS score to test how comfortable you would be in the class while interacting in the English language with classmates from multiple (English and non-English speaking) countries. Others skip this requirement if you can prove to them that your medium of past education was English and that you wouldnt be bringing your English speaking course material or interpreters to class.

Academics (transcripts): The MBA course will include academic and practical content that would test your analytical skills, problem solving abilities and the ability to grasp new concepts. Superior performance in your past acads is a good way to demonstrate that you were comfortable tackling cerebral challenges in your undergrad degree, and that handling academic pressure again (albeit at a different level) would not be a problem for you. Here’s some more information on the topic of pre-MBA academic performance.

Resume: is a good and quick way to show what youve accomplished professionally. You could include extra-curriculars, acads and anything else that you are proud of in this document. There are some DOs and DON’Ts of creating a strong resume that we will cover later, if there is interest. As a well-known face on TV news who maintains her pleasant smile amidst chaotic proceedings around her says, “Those in favour may say Aye.”

MBA Essays: This is the BIG one that can make or break an application when all other things such as the GMAT score, professional background and experience levels appear more or less the same for most Indian applicants. Essays are the only place where an Admission Officer can gain insight into how you think and behave when put in certain situations. Well, recommendation letters serve a similar purpose to some extent but the essays set the basic tone. Neither the GMAT, nor your resume, nor your TOEFL score can fix a badly written essay.

Recommendations: You would need to get two recommendations from current or former managers that can supplement what you have claimed in your essays. Sometimes, instead of a managers recommendation, the applicant may choose to get one from a client, a peer or even a professor.

Interview: This is usually delinked from the rest of the application process and forms Part 2 of the application process. It usually happens by invitation only. After reviewing the essays, GMAT score and academic performance, Adcoms invite a subset of applicants for a final validation of the candidates who they find fit and potential for their programme.

None of these, if taken individually, may take you out of the game. But like in a team game, you would need the support of all quarters to stay in it.

Q1. saurabhnitt went on to ask: How can we utilise this year for strengthening our profile?

There are certain things that you can influence and others that you cant. To keep the complexity of this post within control, it would be safe to assume that an applicants qualifications, industry and (hopefully) gender are cast in stone by now, even if they dont really give him a competitive edge.

But there are other things that can be influenced. If you have enough time, see how you can get a mix of professional responsibilities that will fill in the gaps in your profile (for this you woud first need to be aware of those gaps). Any spikes that you can show — a promotion, a big achievement, a project turnaround story, an international stint, an extra-curricular accomplishment that made you proud are all excellent ways to demonstrate the richness of your profile.

There are also a few things that you should NOT do like wasting three additional months to get your GMAT score up by 10-20 points, joining an NGO just to get a bullet point on your CV or showing too many abnormal developments at the last stage.

Are there any other burning questions in your mind that youd like us to address in subsequent posts? Paste them in the comments below.

Author Sameer Kamat is the founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an admissions consulting venture and author of the bestselling MBA book Beyond The MBA Hype where he shares insights and pitfalls that aspirants should be aware of before they embark on their international MBA journey. He completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge in 2005. You can connect with him on Twitter @kamatsameer