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How to Earn an MBA Scholarship as an International Applicant


Hung-Le - VietAccepted

Hung-Le is an mba.com Featured Contributor and founder of VietAccepted.

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For aspiring international candidates who want to land a seat in a top MBA program, scholarships and financial aid really matter. While a degree from top-flight institutions can help students pivot their careers, it’s estimated cost of US$150,000 to US$200,000 for two year programs could prevent them from pursuing the degree. Therefore, having access to an MBA scholarship, especially for students from developing countries, represents the difference between attending a business school or not.

In my experience, I have worked with a host of local Vietnamese students to land partial to full-ride scholarships at the best business schools in the United States. It is important to understand the distribution of scholarships from the perspective of the admission committee so that you can prepare the best application to improve your odds of receiving admission and a generous tuition-reduction grant.

Here are three of my most important tips.

1. Understand the scholarship criteria

For most business schools, scholarships are based on merit, which means you need to submit your strongest admission materials in terms of standardized tests, resume, essays, and interviews. Among these criteria, the GMAT™ exam has always been considered one of the most, if not the most, important factors in determining the scholarship award. This is because the GMAT score has been used and trusted by business schools as a reliable indicator of your academic prowess and academic potential. Another key reason is that schools can leverage the average GMAT score to climb the MBA rankings.

For international students from Asia, the admission committee members’ expectations of the GMAT score are higher. It is advisable to strive to get a score at least 20 points higher than the average score of your target schools to improve your advantage in the scholarship competition. However, you need to understand that a high GMAT score is not enough to get a full scholarship. You must tell a compelling story, demonstrate your potential contribution, and express your proven leadership in the most authentic way.

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2. Put more emphasis on your MBA resume

Most of the rejected candidates I’ve seen have a weak MBA resume that they were not cognizant of. An excellent resume can present a snapshot of your leadership and your accomplishments. Unfortunately, a large number of universities in Asia do not sufficiently train their students on how to make an impressive resume, which explains why Asian students tend to falter in writing a winning MBA resume.

Everyone can write a resume, but few can produce impactful resumes. It is necessary to have bullets highlighting a number of skills that the admission committee seeks when assessing your application: leadership, teamwork, communication, creativity, problem-solving, and persuasion, to name a few.

Your resume must be results-oriented using the PAR Method (Project, Action, Result)—or X (action = skills) -> Y (result = value-add) principle.

This is a resume tip from Wharton that I have successfully applied to my clients thus far. However, a common mistake is for MBA applicants to write only actions without indicating results and impacts. This leaves the admission committee with no sense of your achievements and your potential to succeed in business school.

3. Refine your MBA interviewing skills

The interview could provide the admissions committee with an opportunity to get to know you better and on a more personal level. This is your chance to put your best foot forward. How you tell a story shows your unique voice and plays a vital role in getting your admission and scholarship. However, this is generally the weakest part of the application for international students, especially those from Asia, because they cannot let their personalities shine. When the interviewer can understand and advocate for your application, this (possibly) increases your odds of getting larger scholarship.

The sobering truth is that the cultural differences between America and Asia sometimes makes Asian students fail to offer important insights about their achievements and personalities. For example, American students are taught to personalize everything, to individualize, and to present their own voice. However, Asian culture inculcates group mentality. This cultural clash sometimes leads Asian applicants to be labeled as “boring,” which then translates into rejection or a smaller scholarship.


Hung-Le - VietAccepted

Hung-Le is an mba.com Featured Contributor and founder of VietAccepted.

VietAccepted is a leading test prep center (GMAT, IELTS) and MBA admission consulting for Vietnamese candidates. Its past clients went to many schools in M7, S10 and T15 programs in the US, INSEAD, Oxford, Cambridge, LBS, etc.