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How to Apply to U.S. Business Schools as an International Applicant

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Are you an international student interested in an MBA or other business master's programs in the U.S.? Here are a few tips to help you navigate the application process to help you earn a spot at your top-choice school.


1. Start planning early

Give yourself plenty of time to explore programs and compile application materials. Begin researching schools that you’re interested in at least one year before you intend to apply. Consider programs holistically (location, curriculum, cost, etc.) and review admission requirements for ones that interest you.

Be sure to set goals and timelines that are achievable and appropriate for you. Work backward from your target application deadline. Also, check if the program you’re interested in requires you to take the GMAT or GRE. Some programs have test waivers you may qualify for.

If you need to take a test, consider your ideal test dates and plan out a study schedule. Allowing time for retesting can reduce pressure on test day and will give you a chance to improve your score if you’re unsatisfied. 


2. Hit the early deadline

If your chosen program offers multiple rounds of admissions deadlines, apply by the earliest one. This is critical because it means you’ll receive an admissions decision sooner, which will give you more time to secure a student visa to study in the U.S. if you’re admitted. Plus, applying early may boost your chances of receiving a scholarship (if it’s offered and you qualify). Scholarships are often awarded on a rolling basis so if you apply late, there may not be any funds available.

The Carlson School will allow you to defer admissions for up to one academic year so you can get your career, financial, and personal affairs in order. We also automatically consider all applicants for academic scholarships you’re eligible for—so apply early.


3. Meet international applicant admissions requirements

Many business schools in the U.S. require international applicants to meet additional admissions requirements. Most commonly, you’ll need to demonstrate English language proficiency since all classes and coursework will be in English. Make sure you know which tests programs prefer you to take and if there are any minimum test scores.

Some Carlson School programs require applicants who did not complete their undergraduate or previous master’s degree in English to submit scores for one of the following English language tests: TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE Academic. Check with the program you’re interested in to see if you need to submit a score. You are also required to submit your transcript to support academic documents.

Finally, you do not need to convert your grade point average to a 4.0 scale on your application.


4. Remember your application is more than a test score and GPA

Your GMAT/GRE score and undergraduate GPA are certainly key components in your application, but don’t let a lower-than-expected score stop you from applying. The Carlson School completes a holistic review of your application that accounts for the years and quality of your professional experience, academic background, and more.

As programs prepare students to work in an increasingly globalized business environment, you can bring important insights and perspectives as an international student. The Carlson School admissions team is especially interested in fostering diversity—in our students’ mindsets, backgrounds, and experiences. So don’t be afraid to highlight how your background and experiences can enrich the classroom in your essays and interviews.


5. Connect with admissions

Once you’ve identified programs you want to apply for, get in touch with the admissions team. They can help you navigate the details of application materials, as well as the visa application process once you’ve been admitted. For example, they can clarify if your academic transcripts can be submitted in their original language or if they need to be translated into English. They can also help you understand any funding requirements the program has, and can help you sort through financial estimates you’re required to meet for your visa.

If you find yourself unsure about any component of your application, it’s best to reach out to the admissions office for help and clarification.

Connect with the admissions team at the Carlson School.


6. Be authentic in your personal statement

An effective personal statement or essay answers the questions in a clear and honest way. Tailor your statement to each school you apply to. If you’re asked to record a video essay, think of it as an opportunity to show the admissions team your authentic self. Answer the questions as you would with a member of an admissions committee.

The Carlson School admissions team uses your personal statement to get to know your background and experiences. Your answers help us determine whether the program is a good fit for your career goals and how what you bring will be an asset to fellow students in our programs.

Get tips on preparing personal statements and video essays.


7. Choose recommenders wisely

It’s common for business schools to require letters of recommendation or professional references as part of your application. Think about your network and choose people who are familiar with your work ethic, skill set, and accomplishments. Depending on your program of interest, you may want to or be required to choose a supervisor or higher-level manager. Current or past colleagues and others you’ve worked with professionally can also make great references. What matters most is the capacity in which your recommenders have worked with you in the past.

Schools can be helpful resources to guide you through these decisions. They may be able to help you identify appropriate recommenders, and can clarify if the letter needs to be written in English.

Learn more about asking for a recommendation. 


8. Polish your resume

Your professional experience is extremely important to business school admissions. Make sure to update and fine-tune your resume so it best reflects your work history or any other experiences you've had like internships or significant class projects. If you’re unfamiliar with U.S. resume format, there are lots of resources available online and some schools will even offer templates for you to use. 

If you have professional work experience, 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

If you have no or little formal work experience, your resume should showcase relevant skills and interests:

  • Demonstrate your contribution to significant class project, indicating skills you used and the result your participation had
  • Highlight your involvement in extracurricular activities, internships, and other relevant activities to showcase your interest and passion
  • Consider including a summary or list of skills you've acquired during your education

Check out more resume dos and don’ts.


9. Don’t delay preparations for your student visa

The visa application process usually begins after you’re admitted to a program. Getting a visa can take several months and may put you at a disadvantage if you’re waitlisted or submitted your application at a later deadline. So it’s important to research specific visa requirements and regulations while you’re exploring programs and to start gathering documentation as you’re applying. Typical documentation requirements include bank statements, scholarships, and student loans.

Again, getting in touch with the admissions team once you’re admitted can help clarify which visa you should apply for, and they can help you prepare some of the documentation you’ll need. 


10. Know it’s okay to try again

If you’re not accepted to your business school of choice the first time you apply, apply again. Contact the admissions staff and ask if there are any aspects of your application that can be strengthened. 

The Carlson School makes reapplying easy. All you need to do is submit an updated resume and personal statement. You will not need to re-send test scores or personal references/recommenders. 

Ready to apply?