How to Apply to American Business Schools

How can international students improve their odds of getting into an MBA program in the United States? Follow these tips to navigate the admissions process and earn a spot at your top-choice business school.

1. Take the leap and apply now

Whether you’re fully committed or you remain unsure about earning your MBA, apply for admission now. Applying sooner will offer you more flexibility and—depending on the round you’re applying in—can increase your likelihood of attending your top choice school. If you’re admitted to your program of choice, you may not be required to enroll in classes immediately: for example, the Carlson MBA Program allows admitted students to defer their admission for up to one academic year while they get their career, financial, and personal affairs in order.

This is especially important for international students: MBA programs tend to admit students from a variety of countries to form a culturally diverse student community. The pool may be more competitive among students from countries like India and China, where many business school applicants live.  

2. Hit the early deadline, if possible

If your chosen MBA program offers multiple round deadlines for admission, apply by the first or second round deadlines. As schools accept more applicants, merit-based scholarship funds dwindle. The longer you wait to apply, the lesser chance you have of earning a scholarship. The Carlson MBA Program automatically considers all applicants (both international and domestic) for academic scholarships, but the funds are awarded on a rolling basis. The final application deadline may differ for international students.

3. Be authentic in your personal statement

When you write your personal statement, you need not be a novelist or a comedian—just be yourself. Answer the stated question in the clearest way possible, and be honest. Your personal statement should be tailored to each school you apply to. The Carlson MBA admissions team uses your personal statement to determine whether the program is a good fit for your career goals, and whether your background and experience will be an asset to fellow students in the MBA community.

4. Start planning early

The typical Carlson MBA applicant takes 18 months to explore MBA programs, study for and take the GRE/GMAT, and submit their application materials. International students must also obtain a visa to study in the United States. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can apply for a visa if admitted to the program.

5. Don’t be disheartened by your test score

Your GMAT/GRE score is certainly a key component in your MBA application. But don’t let a lower-than-expected score dissuade you from applying to business school. The Carlson MBA Program does a holistic review of each candidate that accounts for years/quality of professional experience, program fit, academic background, and more. If possible, apply using the score you have today: you can always retake the exam and reapply the next year if you’re not granted admission to your top-choice school.

6. Choose your recommenders wisely

It’s common for business schools to require MBA applicants to include letters of recommendation or professional references. Think about your network, and choose people who are familiar with your work ethic, your skillset, and your accomplishments. These can be current or past colleagues, and they need not be supervisors or higher-level managers: Your references’ job titles are less important than the capacity in which they’ve worked with you in the past.  The Carlson MBA Program requires professional references in lieu of letters of recommendation, but choosing your recommenders should follow a similar process.

7. Polish your résumé

Your professional experience is extremely important to business school admissions. You should update and fine tune your résumé to best reflect your work history. Most MBA programs (including the Carlson School) require at least two years of career experience for admittance.

Your resume should highlight a few key themes:

  • How your work has impacted your team or organization in a quantifiable way
  • How you have taken on a leadership role in a professional environment
  • How your professional experience will be an asset to your peers in the program

8. Meet international applicant requirements

Business school applicants from outside the United States have slightly different application requirements from U.S. students. The Carlson School requirements are as follows: First, students who did not complete their undergraduate or a previous master’s degree in English must submit an English test (i.e. TOEFL, or IELTS). Second, international applicants are required to submit transcripts in addition to supporting academic documents (depending on your country). Third, international applicants should not convert their grade point average to a 4.0 scale on their application. See international application requirements for more information.

9. Reach out for help

If you find yourself stuck on any component of your application, reach out to the school’s admissions staff. Oftentimes, the admissions office is happy to help applicants navigate the process. To be connected with a Carlson MBA admissions representative, email

10. Be diligent

If you’re not granted admission to your business school of choice, do apply again. Contact the admissions staff and ask whether there are any areas of your application that could be strengthened. The Carlson MBA makes reapplying easy: applicants must submit an updated resume and personal statement, but need not re-send test scores or personal references.

Application Checklist

Download the Full-Time MBA International Student Application Checklist to keep track of your progress. 

Contact Full-Time MBA