A little while ago we had the pleasure of hosting a chat on the Top 10 mistakes that Indian and East Asian applicants make in their quest to secure a spot in one of the top US or European business schools. Dr. Shel Watts, founder and CEO of MBAAdmit.com, provided some extraordinary insights into this whole process. Dr. Watts is a Harvard College (A.B.) and Oxford University (Masters/Ph.D) graduate with a background in banking and consulting. She was also a faculty member at Harvard for 4 years.
I’m not kidding when I say this: if you are an Indian or an East Asian national, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t check out Dr. Shel’s advice. The chat we hosted was among the most popular and useful we’ve had on MBA Watch, and I like to think of ourselves as generally very popular and very useful I’ll feature the top 5 mistakes here, but I strongly encourage you to check out the full discussion by going to the General Discussion area of MBA Watch!
Mistake #1: Neglecting to explain why you need an MBA from a top university in the United States or Europe.
Most top MBA programs have an essay question focused on “Why do you want an MBA and why is our school a great fit for you?” As a foreign national Indian or East Asian candidate, you should pretend that there is another unwritten part of that question for you, which says “… and why do you need an MBA from a top school in the United States (or Europe)?” If you fail to demonstrate an answer to this unwritten question, some top schools might believe you really don’t need an MBA from outside of your own home country or region of the world.
Imagine a situation in which you have presented an excellent application and you are as attractive in your academic credentials, GMAT score, extracurricular achievements and professional successes as another candidate from your country. But, that other candidate has articulated a clear, compelling reason why they need an MBA from a U.S. or European school. All other things equal, the committee may likely tilt in favor of the other candidate because they have been given a clear reason to do so. Why give the admissions committee a reason to reject you? Make sure you address this important issue through your discussions of your long-term goals and of why the designated school is ideal for you.
Mistake #2: Failing to recognize the impact of the GMAT score.
For applicants who have begun to do their homework about admissions to top business schools in the United States and Europe, you may have begun to understand how important your GMAT score is in the MBA admissions process. MBA candidates come from a wide range of schools and from schools located all around the world. The GMAT provides MBA admissions officers with a standard metric by which to compare candidates from these widely varying backgrounds. The GMAT is also a metric that admissions committees refer to when considering whether you can do the rigorous work of their program. Because of this, your GMAT score plays an important role in your overall “package” and can have a notable impact on your admissions outcomes.
For Indian and East Asian foreign national candidates in particular, the GMAT score can have a big impact on outcomes because GMAT averages tend to be notably high among these two broad groups of foreign national applicants, so if you score low on the GMAT exam, you will be at a notable disadvantage.
For my typical European candidate, a 700-710 is an average score and can position them well for the top programs. Even a 680 is often times not problematic for European candidates. But for an Indian or East Asian candidate, the 700-710 GMAT score would look a bit low. The typical score I see for Indian foreign national male applicants, for example, is around 740; for East Asian foreign national men, a typical score would be around 720.
Mistake #3: Failing to use the long-term goal as a differentiating factor.
Many candidates who are foreign nationals from India and East Asia are coming from the high technology or manufacturing sectors. You can therefore imagine the number of such candidates who indicate that in the long term they want to run their own IT company or manufacturing company. Without providing good definition to this goal, you will look very “generic” – that is, indistinguishable from other candidates with similar backgrounds. I believe one reason why at MBA Admit.com we have seen such success with our candidates from India and East Asia is because we have helped our candidates to define their long-term goals in ways that help them to stand out and make them more attractive.
Mistake #4: Failing to convey business-relevant information and outstanding strategic content in MBA admission essays.
Your MBA essays represent a very important key to admission to business school. It is hard to overstate this. Nearly every time I review the application of a candidate who failed to gain admission to their desired business school after applying on their own, I see a great deal of room for improvement in their MBA essays—both in terms of their strategic choice of content and the specific words they used to try to convey their achievements and credentials. The good news is that once we worked with the candidate to revise or completely re-craft the essays, these candidates have fared much better in the admissions process.
In most instances, candidates fail to shine a light on their most strategically important achievements. Among Indian and East Asian foreign national candidates, there are often two additional problems. First, candidates fail to emphasize their leadership. (Even if you have only worked for three years and you have not led a team independently, there are many ways to weave leadership into your essays.) Second, specifically among those candidates coming from IT or manufacturing backgrounds, candidates often fail to communicate their achievements and qualifications in the most business-relevant terms.
There are many examples when, after re-writing essays with more business-relevant information, a candidate has gained admission to schools to which they might have been rejected previously.
Mistake #5: Presenting a “personal story” that is very similar to the stories told by many other candidates from your country.
Some top business schools, like UCLA Anderson, will require an MBA essay about your personal background. Through it, they want to get to know you better. A typical candidate from India might write about coming from a family in which their parents worked hard and sacrificed to give them opportunities. They will tell the reader about how they studied hard and scored excellently in national exams in order to earn a spot at a top college in India, and how the values they learned in this family environment have helped them succeed professionally. This is great information, but there is a big problem: this is largely the same story that the vast majority of Indian foreign national candidates will tend to write. If you focus on this storyline without taking steps to make the story more unique, you will sound very generic and it will be harder for the admissions committee to distinguish you from other applicants.
There are, of course, many ways to make the story unique. You don’t need to alter the storyline, as such – if that is your true experience, you should write about it. But, you must tell the story uniquely so as to stand out. This could boil down to a matter of the writing style. The use of carefully-chosen details could make a big difference. The use of dialogue here and there can help bring the story to life. Providing a specific anecdote can help. I have helped many candidates with “familiar storylines” to access great schools – from UCLA to Stanford – but we have made sure we tell the story in a way that leaves a positive, lasting impression on the reader.You may wonder whether this issue is as pronounced for East Asian foreign national candidates. For East Asian foreign national candidates who are not already working or residing in the United States, I see less of this particular problem because the circumstances associated with life experiences vary so much based upon country backgrounds or even regions within a country. Life in Malaysia can be quite distinct from life in China, and life in big-city China can be quite distinct from life in rural China. Similarly, life in Japan can be quite different from life in Indonesia, and within Malaysia there are so many different ethnicities and ways of life that you can see much more variety in storylines.
However, when an East Asian foreign national candidate is in the United States/Europe already (working or studying), I see more overlap in storylines at that point, because candidates will tend to write about issues such as the culture shock of coming to the United States/Europe or the challenge of overcoming the language barrier. When you venture into this territory, this is where you risk sounding very similar to others. So again, take care with how you are presenting this information.
Read Mistakes 6 through 10 and the rest of the transcript on the General Discussion comment wall of MBA Watch.
Again, a huge thanks to Dr. Shel, founder and CEO of MBAAdmit.com, for this awesome session! We have an upcoming “10 High-Impact Actions To Take Now for Fall Admissions” live chat on March 13 – RSVP today!