How to get into a top B-school abroad

How to get into a top  B-school abroad
MBA seems to be dominating the education world today. The mushrooming of many B-schools in the country proves it. But there are many who look towards the international scenario for MBA programmes. If you are one of those, here’s a checklist to help you through the rigorous procedure of making it through a top B-school abroad.

Standardised exams

The first item the admissions officers look for is your standardised exam score. In fact, the admissions office will give decision-making, admissions readers the high scoring applications first when the majority of seats are still available. It is only weeks later that admissions readers will get the low-scoring applications. By then, there may be five seats left, if that many. 

Most business schools offer you the option to take the GMAT or the GRE. Take both, and if need be, take them more than once. The admissions office will focus on the highest of all the scores. Also, while Indians tend to do well on the quantitative sections of the exams, they tend to fail in the verbal section.

This means that you will need to improve your vocabulary.  While the GMAT, unlike the GRE, does not officially test vocabulary, you will not succeed on the GMAT without a strong vocabulary base, simply because without vocabulary, you cannot succeed on the reading comprehension questions. Deliberately work on increasing your word knowledge. This may include using flash cards, books, or computer programs.  Wide reading and looking up unfamiliar words will also help.

Experience matters

While having a high score will get your foot in the door, you will not likely keep that door open without work experience.  While there have been exceptions, if you just got your degree, you will most probably need to work for a couple of years. Where you work is not important.

Students from varied fields like education, engineering and social sciences have been accepted into B-schools. However, you should make a splash wherever you are.  Start a newsletter for employees. Propose and carry through with a new project.  Start a novel marketing campaign. One Indian applicant started a ‘no smoking’ movement at his workplace to improve his fellow employees’ health. His concern for others and initiative led to his acceptance.
All work and no play?

Business schools want students who are interested in something more than money; they want to see you take initiative in your community. Volunteer for any cause.  There are numerous organisations such as Child Relief and You (CRY), who are looking for extra hands, or even better, you can create your own opportunities. 

Start and coach a youth cricket team in your neighbourhood. Organise a clean up effort at the park. Collect toys and clothes for local orphanages. Business schools are not looking for long lists of activities but one or two major initiatives that demonstrate your ability to lead and organise.

Along with community service, consider getting involved in a fun extracurricular pursuit. An applicant to a prominent business school who had moved to a different region of his country wrote about having taken up playing a local instrument and joining an informal band. The admissions reader was sufficiently impressed that he admitted him in spite of his deficiencies in other areas.

Recommendation letters

Strong recommendation letters can make or break your application, so choose wisely.  If possible, get one letter from a faculty member who taught you at the university level, one from your boss, and one from someone who has worked with you in the community. If you still have time before submitting your application, target your recommenders and try to develop a strong relationship with them. Heartfelt letters are far more sincere and well received by admissions readers. If you do not have time to develop this relationship, at the very least, make sure your recommenders like you.

Sadly, many admissions readers at various competitive universities have read letters in which the recommender strongly suggested that the applicant NOT be admitted. These applicants are never offered admission even if all the other components of their applications are strong. The easiest way to determine if a potential recommender likes you is to ask him/her if he would like to write a letter on your behalf.

A lukewarm or hesitant response is a clear signal that you should move in another direction. Also, while it would be unethical to write your own letter, feel free to give your recommenders cheat sheets that remind them of what you have accomplished.  Your cheat sheet should remind them of times when you exhibited leadership, initiative, and concern for others. Also, ask them to rate you against your peers.  Business schools appreciate numerical figures that help them defend their decision to admit you.

Short response and essay answers

Your application will require you to write several short responses and essay answers.  Admissions readers analyse these carefully, mining them for information about you.  There are several steps you can take to make sure that your writing helps the admissions officer admit you.

First, follow the rules of good essay writing. Spelling and grammar should be impeccable. Your vocabulary should be strong. And your writing should be well organised.  Have several people proofread your writing for you. There are also many websites such as that can also help you.

Next, practice economy of words. Your objective should be to pack in as much positive information about yourself in as few words as possible. Information about others’ contribution to a project or your failures are good areas to cut. This does not mean leave this information out all together. For example, do not act as if you handled a project solo, but limit your discussion of other people’s activities to a sentence. Similarly, you may strategically want to mention a failure, but the majority of your essay should be about how you overcame that failure.

While writing about your accomplishments, keep several facts in mind.  First, limit your accomplishments to business or community affairs. When asked about a difficulty you surpassed, many applicants write about family trouble. Admissions readers are not interested in how you convinced your parents to let you marry someone outside of your caste or how you helped your family understand that you did not want to go to medical school. Next, even when you do write about business,
never write about how you stepped on someone in your attempt to move up.

Most admissions readers will not be impressed with arrogance or inconsiderate behaviour. You will impress far more readers with stories about how you helped others. And honestly, that’s a good practice to follow in life – to be kind to others, not hurt them.

You may choose to hire a consultant to help you navigate the process of business school admissions. If you do, never let a consultant sell you prefilled applications or essays. You will NOT be admitted. Unethical consultants who do this will have sold that same application or essay to others, which means that the admissions readers will have previously read your submission and recognise the scam.Instead, use the information in this article, trust yourself, and work hard.  And I will see you in a top business school soon!
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