According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2015 Application Trends Survey report, China and India are the top countries where MBA and business school master’s programs recruit international candidates. The interest is mutual, with Indian and Chinese applicants showing an overwhelming preference for studying in the U.S.
There is, however, a very diverse marketplace across Asia, and these two countries in particular couldn’t be more different. The two major divergences are the number of men versus women sitting for the GMAT exam and the type of program to which citizens of these countries most often apply.
The GMAC, which administers the GMAT and produces surveys on various management education topics annually, reports that for the 2014 testing year, there were 28,325 exams taken in India, of which 7,771 test-takers were women. Contrast that with China, where GMAC administered 57,783 exams last year – 37,631 of which were taken by women.
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In fact, China is the second-largest source country after the U.S. for women interested in going to business school. According to GMAC’s 2014 Data-to-Go report on regional testing trends, GMAT testing in China has seen an annual growth rate of 22 percent over the past five years, and this explosive increase is coming exclusively from increasingly younger test-takers.
In 2014, 79 percent of them were under 25, up from 63 percent just five years ago. Chinese citizens send three-quarters of their scores to programs in the U.S., and six out of 10 Chinese women say developing general business skills and increasing job opportunities are their main reasons for pursuing graduate management education.
Indian citizens say the top motivators for pursuing business school are a desire to develop leadership, managerial and general business skills, as well as career acceleration, the report states. A significant motivation expressed by female applicants in India, according to the survey, is to help make a bigger difference in their field of interest, cited by 46 percent of women, versus 39 percent of male applicants.
The difference in the types of management programs that attract Indian and Chinese applicants is also dramatic. In China, the majority of test scores are sent to master’s programs, and just 28.7 percent of scores go to MBA programs, both in the U.S. and otherwise.
Meanwhile in India, 86.4 percent of scores went to MBA programs both in and out of the U.S., and a mere 11.6 percent were sent to non-MBA master’s programs. According to the GMAC survey, applicants who seek master of finance programs are often unsure of the economy or job prospects and are seeking international opportunities rather than a career change, which is often the motive for MBA hopefuls.
Challenges for Chinese and Indian MBA Applicants
Business school admissions committees often cite insufficient English proficiency as a roadblock for international students applying to U.S. schools. But even more problematic is the overwhelming number of applicants who have an engineering background, particularly among Indian applicants, which makes standing out from the masses much more difficult.
Even though U.S. schools receive more international applications from this part of the world than any other, proportionally speaking, more candidates are denied admission from this region than any other as well.
The reason for this level of rejection of highly qualified applicants is twofold. Business schools in the U.S. want to create a rich learning environment through a diverse class of individuals representing various professional industries and walks of life.
Secondly, the career services office must make sure these students will be able to land a job when they graduate. International students hoping to stay in the U.S. face stiff competition from similarly prepared American graduates as well as serious hurdles obtaining work visas.
Application Advice for Indian and Chinese Candidates
An increasing number of programs have incorporated video interviews and video essay questions into their admissions requirements, allowing schools to better observe how applicants express themselves and think on their feet.
Active class participation and communication skills are a vital component of the MBA experience, so making sure international candidates possess English fluency levels that are competitive with native speakers is an absolute must for any applicant to a top MBA program in the U.S.
While the odds may be tougher, even applicants in over-represented groups can prevail and land a seat at an elite business school. It happens many times during every single admissions season. The key is finding a way to differentiate themselves from their peers, and the best place to do so is in the MBA essays.
By showing that they have real leadership and managerial experience, have made a significant, quantifiable impact on the job or in their extracurricular activities, have ambitious career goals and can paint a vivid picture of their dreams and passions that go beyond a stellar GMAT score, these applicants will absolutely have a shot at admission at their dream MBA program.