Applying for Business School – An International Perspective

Applying for Business School – An International Perspective

Whenever potential applicants reach out to me asking when and how they should start the application process, my prompt answer is always the same: “You started the process the day you were born” – all your life experiences can be of substantial importance for the application process.


While some of Booth’s selling points are a bright career ahead and two years of the most exciting experiences one can have, it is worth noting that joining a business school such as Booth demands a time commitment. The application process relies heavily on the experiences you’ve had throughout your life. While that may seem like second nature to some applicants, for international students this approach to the process can require different skills and steps as compared to those of applying for schools in other countries. In this post, I will bring some takeaways from Boothies from Canada, Brazil, Italy, Israel, and Singapore. My hope is that sharing the experiences of applicants from a variety of backgrounds will help those considering an MBA see the process from different perspectives.

The MBA application process is largely divided among three major parts: the GMAT/GRE, essays, and interviews, as well as a few additional components—recommendation letters, resume, etc.—to round things out. Thinking about these three key phases, you realize that each one demands a different type of effort.

For some, standardized tests, such as GMAT, can require a lot of time to prepare for the exam, sit the test, and retake if you’re unhappy with your score. In some countries, applicants have the impression that this score is the most important step in the process, which can be misleading. Marina Hellmeister, a Brazilian 1Y, highlighted the difference from her home country. “In Brazil, applications tend to be based only on exams results and students with highest grades are the ones selected,” said Marina. “Whereas Booth’s process assesses the full picture of applicants’ background and ambitions, combining different data points.” In a similar direction, Rubi Vinnitsky, an Israeli 2Y, compares the importance of academic records in Israel as to the process for Booth. “Booth also asks its prospective students to provide letters of recommendation, write several essays, and interview. By doing so, the school can get a comprehensive understanding of its candidates and assess them based on a holistic approach rather than focus only on their academic records,” said Rubi.

Already you’re beginning to see that across different cultures, there is different weight placed on different experiences. The same is true for approach other elements of the application process. Essays, for instance, demand an additional skill related to story-telling, one that students from many countries are not as used to, turning this stage of the process into one that external consultants may help applicants. Those who opt to work with a consultant, find that this external source shows them effective ways to build their story. As Rubi stated, “Your story matters! Make sure to build a clear narrative such that all your application materials connect. For instance, you should be clear on how your future goals are based on your past experiences and the tools you have acquired along the way.” Similarly, Aldo Lazzaroni, an Italian 1Y, highlighted what type of information he felt made a significant difference when working on his application. “Booth and the other top US schools are more interested in learning about the candidate’s leadership experiences and extracurricular activities than Italian schools are when they evaluate candidates,” he said. Taking the time to prepare a thoughtfully written essay may sound very demanding, and indeed sometimes it is, but it also has a huge upside. “It is also an opportunity for the applicant to develop better self-knowledge and get to know more about the school itself, generating a much better fit for both parties,” said Marina.

If you’ve managed to achieve a score you’re happy with, prepare your essays, and submit a strong application you’ll feel even better about being granted an invitation to interview. Making it to the interview stage is already a huge win, but the importance of this stage should not be underestimated as this is the only opportunity the school will have to meet you in person, understand your level of energy, and assess your interpersonal skills. “Booth’s process of determining whether you’re a good fit for the school is a lot more casual and was more of a conversation than it was a structured dialogue,” said Yu Jin Tee, a Singaporean 2Y, about his interview experience. “So, it was much more a bilateral exchange – a chance not only for the school to get to know me better, but also for me to decide if Booth is the place I want to go,” he shared. Going a little further, he also highlighted that the interview tipped the scales in favor of Booth for him. “There is a tendency to focus on the tangible outcomes/metrics of a school (employers, acceptance rate, employment rate etc.) but not necessarily whether you will enjoy yourself at this school. The Booth interview was the only one that fulfilled the latter.” As stated by Yu Jin, the interview is also a great opportunity for the applicants as well, a value also highlighted by Aldo. “I was surprised (in a positive way) to learn that interviews were conducted by Booth alumni and current students. I thought that it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the student experience, and it was a great indicator of the Booth’s ‘pay-it-forward culture’,” he said.

As an overall takeaway from the process, it is super important to keep in mind how holistic it is, every bit of information provided matters and, for that reason, understanding what your strengths are and what the school is looking for is of substantial importance. As Danielle Xu, a Canadian 2Y, stated, “Applying to programs in the US felt more like a black box, coupled with the fact that I hadn’t done any campus visits, I really didn’t have as strong an idea of what I was getting into. Going to First Day once I got accepted was super helpful in that regard,” she said. “If I were to redo the process, I think I would take more time doing research into the schools and understanding the program fit with my career goals before applying. Fortunately for me, Booth was the perfect fit.”

Indeed, having a clear understanding of your past experiences, strengths, weaknesses, career goals, and what the school offers, will help you align your story and craft a strong application. While it will be time intensive, the time invested is well worth it for an MBA experience that can be your best life experience to date. Definitely, a bargain for that kind of return!

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