The below is a version of the original article that first appeared in Education Times, The Times of India. It is aimed at prospective students from India.
Thinking about getting your MBA and applying to a U.S. school? If yes, one of the obvious challenges is getting accepted. The application process can indeed seem overwhelming. I have come across hundreds of applications from Indian students over the years in my previous role as director of admissions at Fuqua and now as the school’s Regional Director for India. Here are some tips for prospective MBA applicants on strengthening applications to United States business schools:
Your Application as a Mosaic
As with all applicants, one of the greatest challenges you face is differentiation — making yourself stand out among other applicants. By definition, there is no single answer as to how to differentiate yourself from other candidates, and only you can decide which of many unique factors in your biography deserve greater emphasis. Unfortunately, many applicants work harder on their GMAT than on their differentiation in the hope that scores alone will be a ticket to a top-tier institution. I often advise candidates to think of the application as a mosaic. There is never one piece of a mosaic that is so good it makes the picture come together, and there is never one piece so weak as to ruin the whole image. But the different pieces do need work together to create an indelible picture of you.
At most schools, an admissions committee will evaluate you holistically based on a variety of criteria, including:
- Demonstrated academic performance at a respected institution
- Strong standardized test scores
- Work experience, with a focus on quality over quantity
- Independent recommendations from people who know you in business settings
- Essays — your best opportunity to differentiate yourself
Among prospective applicants, business schools look for indicators that admitted students will be engaged in the academic community and culture of the school, and will graduate to a successful career. Among international candidates in particular, business schools are looking for a diversity of backgrounds to add regional business and cultural perspectives to the learning environment. And you can demonstrate those perspectives in the application process by showing your global sophistication and business awareness. Ask yourself which impression you would prefer to create: a leader already immersed in international business or one who aspires to be; a person who can teach others about a particular industry and culture, or one who is primarily looking to learn; one who projects the confidence of an MBA, or one arriving at school with a hope to gain that confidence? If you aspire to work abroad after business school, the time to start thinking of yourself as an international businessperson is before you apply.
How can you use your work background to brand yourself as an international candidate?
First, consider your organization. Does your company have international clients? Does it source from international vendors? Does it produce products or services that ultimately benefit an international market? Many organizations are international; your depiction of your organization will begin to shape how a school perceives you.
Second, clearly define your role in the organization. Show what you do, your level of responsibility, and how it fits into the big picture. Business schools often talk about “connecting the dots.” Instead of making file evaluators connect the dots among the disparate parts of your work experience, academics and goals, connect the dots for them.
Third, develop a global perspective. Even if you work in a domestically focused company, you should still try to gain a global perspective on your job, company, and industry. Whatever your organization does and whatever you do within your organization, there are U.S. and global analogues. It is up to you to draw parallels to equivalent businesses in both in the U.S. and markets throughout the world.
Communicate with Global Sophistication — Don’t “Pass Out”
Thinking globally also deals with communication. Does your written and spoken English create an impression of international sophistication?
For example, the use of “passed out” for “graduated” is an Indian colloquialism that could momentarily elicit concern among U.S. admissions officers, to whom “passed out” has a less positive connotation. Consider who might be reading your application: a US college graduate who has never heard the term passed out. Americans typically use classmate when they mean batchmate, valedictorian for topper, 100,000 for lakh, and dorm room for hostel.
This is not a value judgment about correct or incorrect English. Personally, I prefer the use of “batch” simply because the ambiguous “class” might mean batch, or it might mean a particular course or even a physical classroom space. I also prefer many other Indian conventions, such as the distinction between school and university, which are often used interchangeably in the U.S. A U.S. interviewer asking you about “school,” probably means your university.
But the point is that you are not only communicating information to a U.S. admissions officer, but also a level of self-awareness. You need to demonstrate knowledge of your audience in your communication and show that you understand, and can effectively operate in, a world greater than your own immediate experience.
Don’t Get Lost in Translation
Here are some common terms used by Indian applicants in interviews or essays, and their U.S. equivalents. Be careful using these terms when speaking with a U.S. admissions officer, especially if you are unsure of their familiarity with India.
- pass out = graduate
- batchmate/batch = classmate/class
- my senior/junior = in a class ahead of me, behind me
- topper = honor student/Dean’s list
- lakh = 100,000
- crore = 10,000,000
- hostel room = dorm room
- placement office = career management office
- workex = work experience
- 12th standard = 12th grade
- PGP = graduate program
- fresher = freshman (or if speaking of MBA students, “first-year”)
- write the GMAT = take the GMAT
Dan McCleary is the Regional Director for India at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Among his responsibilities is the organization of the Fuqua’s Cross Continent and Global Executive MBA residencies in India. He is the former Director of Admissions at the school.