The ability to work well with people from other cultures has never been more critical. More companies than ever are conducting international business, and business schools everywhere have spent the past few years deepening their own focus on globalization through coursework and study abroad programs.
Business school admissions committees look for applicants who are open-minded, curious, adventurous and eager to learn about the world at large. Though not an explicit requirement for admission, having meaningful work, study or travel experience outside your home country makes you more desirable as an MBA applicant.
These global experiences are especially appreciated – after graduation, they translate into marketable job skills, such as adaptability, leadership, cultural awareness and communication and language abilities. Here are two key reasons why international experience matters when applying to business school.
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• Diverse perspective: If you look at the demographics of any elite MBA program, you will see a considerable percentage of non-citizens enrolled. Having students from a wide array of backgrounds, cultures and languages strengthens and enriches everyone’s experience.
Whether you are applying to a program in- or outside your home country, having a broader perspective of global business issues in your arsenal means you bring a unique viewpoint to class discussions and team projects. It also expands your network as you tap into professional associations with your contacts in other countries.
MBA applicants should highlight any experiences traveling, studying or working outside their home country. The admissions committee wants to ensure these candidates can actually thrive – not just survive – in the program and work well with a diverse group of classmates.
• Adaptability and vision: If you have already logged significant international work experience or education prior to business school, you are three steps ahead of the game. Think about it: When you immerse yourself in another language or culture, you likely encounter some form of culture shock that ultimately becomes a valuable learning experience.
You are demonstrating real leadership skills when you break through communication barriers, learn how business practices work in the new environment, adapt to new social and business norms, work with diverse teams, solve problems or go beyond your comfort zone. These skills are a crucial differentiator in a competitive MBA applicant pool.
International travel and work experience can also offer a wealth of material for your MBA essays. Often such experiences will spur new career goals and a broader vision for your life.
Perhaps your travels shaped your views about health care or education, inspired a passion for Spanish literature, introduced you to the thrill of mountaineering or helped you become more outgoing and confident in unfamiliar situations. Whatever the effect, you can explain what you learned about yourself and others and in turn convey your uniqueness to the admissions committee.
Even if you haven’t traveled extensively, you can still highlight any applicable experiences you have had working with individuals from other countries and cultures. If you have the time and resources to travel in the months before applying, research international volunteer opportunities or continuing education study abroad programs. If these options aren’t feasible, consider taking on a project at work that puts you in contact with international offices or teams.
Rest assured, your application likely won’t be rejected due to a lack of international exposure if every other component is compelling and strong. In your essays, reference your enthusiasm for the school’s diverse culture and your plans to take advantage of study abroad programs, as well as your desire to participate in any clubs or student groups that will increase your cross-cultural awareness. As long as you can show your intent to expand your mindset and increase your international exposure during business school, you should be fine.