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How to Pursue an MBA in the U.S. as an International Student

two students laughing while working together on laptops
two students laughing while working together on laptops

Many of the top-ranking business schools in the world are located in the U.S., and each year they attract applicants from people all over the globe.

In this Article

Studying in the U.S. can be beneficial academically and culturally for international students. You can have new experiences, learn a new culture, and be exposed to broader perspectives about business policies and practices.

"They can come back to their home country with knowledge of business practices in other cultures," explains Marco De Novellis, senior editor for BusinessBecause and GMAC Media.

Studying in the U.S. can expose you to broader perspectives about business policies and practices.

You will find many types of business schools and MBA programs to choose from in the U.S. When selecting a school, look for a program that offers the concentration or specialization that you are interested in pursuing. Another factor to consider is accreditation, which assures you that the MBA program has met standards of quality.

Admission to U.S. business schools is highly competitive, especially at the top-ranking institutions. International students must meet the same admissions requirements as their American counterparts, such as GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, and an essay. In addition, you have the added requirements of obtaining a student visa and showing evidence of English language proficiency by taking a test such as the TOEFL.

International students must meet the same admissions requirements as their American counterparts, such as GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, and an essay.

While there may be limited space available, most business schools welcome international students because their perspectives bring much-desired diversity to the classroom. American and international students can learn from each other by sharing their experiences and ideas.

"Schools are doing all they can to attract international students," says De Novellis.

Application Tips for International Students

The process of applying to an MBA program will take some time. Here are some tips for international students interested in studying in the U.S.:

  • Start well in advance. Begin contacting schools at least one year before you intend to apply.
  • Learn the admissions requirements of the schools you hope to attend. Find out what tests they prefer and if they have minimum test scores.
  • Inquire about financial aid. Many schools have financial packages for international students.
  • Ask about housing arrangements. There may be on-campus housing available or the school may advise you about off-campus locations.
  • Make sure you have all documentation necessary to obtain a student visa.

What Tests Do I Need to Take?

Before applying to a business school, you may need to take the GMAT. You will also need to demonstrate proficiency in English by taking either the TOEFL or IELTS test.

GMAT

The GMAT is a standardized test that evaluates a student's readiness for business school. Most schools require GMAT scores as part of the application process. The GMAT consists of four parts: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing.

The GMAT is administered in English only, but is available throughout the world. If there is not a testing center near you, you may be able to take the test in online format. The test is timed and proctored.

While there are some American MBA programs that do not require GMAT scores, it's still a good idea to take the test. Taking the test gives you more options in choosing a school, and a high score may help you qualify for scholarships or financial aid. 

TOEFL

To do well in an American school, you will need to be proficient in both spoken and written English. If your undergraduate degree is from an English-speaking country, you may not need to demonstrate proficiency. Otherwise, you will need to take a test, and that testing agency will send the scores with your application to business school. One common English language proficiency test is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL.

The TOEFL is commonly accepted at higher education institutes across the U.S. It emphasizes the style of academic English that you will encounter in the classroom.

The test consists of four sections:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing  

You can take the TOEFL at a designated testing center or at home. The test is offered only on certain dates, and you must make an appointment.

Tests are usually taken on a computer but there are some paper tests available in Colombia, Mexico, India, and a few places in the U.S. You will receive a total numerical score between 0 and 120. Most top business schools require a score of 100 or above.

IELTS

Like the TOEFL, the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is also accepted by many business schools in the U.S. The academic version of IELTS assesses listening, reading, and writing in English and takes two hours, 45 minutes to complete.

There are IELTS test centers in 140 countries around the world, and you may take the test on paper or computer. The test is scored on a scale of one to nine. Most U.S. schools will require a score of seven or higher.

Check with the schools you are interested in to see whether they require the TOEFL, the IELTS, or either.

What are the Advantages of a U.S. MBA?

Attending business school in the U.S. may give international students an advantage in their education and future careers.

American business schools have a worldwide reputation for strong academics. U.S. schools dominate in the top 20 ranked schools. Faculty tend to be from diverse backgrounds and have held leadership positions in business.

If you're interested in working in the U.S. someday, you can receive a strong background in American economics, finance, and management customs. Business practices, laws and regulations, and etiquette can differ from one country to another.

"It's great to be exposed to different cultures," explains John Gibson, associate director of admissions at Purdue University Krannert School of Management. "They do business differently."

It can also be useful for MBA candidates to learn about the U.S. because many large corporations are headquartered here, and the majority of them have a strong international presence. If you plan to return to your home country, you may have an advantage getting a job with a company that does business with American industries.

If you plan to return to your home country, you may have an advantage getting a job with a company that does business with American industries.

You'll might also improve your English communication skills while experiencing U.S. culture first-hand. Becoming familiar with American culture can serve as an advantage for those planning a career in international business.

"They're getting experience in the world's largest economy," Gibson says.

Another perk of attending a U.S. business school might be opportunities for networking. Many schools hold networking events or recruiting fairs, where representatives from top employers meet with MBA candidates.

How Long Does it Take?

The traditional full-time MBA program takes two years. In the summer between the first and second year of classes, many students serve internships to get real-life experience in business.

The traditional full-time MBA program takes two years.

Part-time MBA programs are also available, but you may need full-time status to maintain your student visa. Part-time programs will usually take more than two years to finish.

How Important are Good English Skills?

You will need highly proficient English skills for success in a U.S. business school, beginning with the application process.

To do well on the GMAT, which is offered only in English, you will need good reading skills in English. You won't be able to use a dictionary or translator on the test. While the analytical writing portion of the test doesn't count toward your total score, the admissions staff may take it into consideration.

To do well on the GMAT, which is offered only in English, you will need good reading skills in English.

MBA programs also require an essay and an interview. The essay portion can be influential. You need both English skills and an understanding of writing for U.S. readers.

"The greatest challenge that international applicants have is being able to cater their experience and essay to an American audience," says Melody Jones, co-founder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Counseling.

Once you are admitted, your classes in your MBA program will make extensive use of reading, writing, and conversation. You may have to make classroom presentations, write reports, or create business or marketing plans.

You'll also need English skills for day-to-day living. While you might find other international students that speak your language, it's a good idea to socialize with American students as much as you can. The more you use English, the more refined your skills will become. You'll also learn much about American customs and norms.

Preparing for the TOEFL should give you the basic skills, but many colleges and universities will also have resources available to help international students improve their skills. For further help, you may be able to find private lessons or tutors.

Can I Earn my U.S. MBA Online?

International students can take a few online classes while they are studying in the U.S., but they cannot earn a degree entirely online.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, international students with an F-1 visa can take only one online class, or three credit hours, per term or semester.

Do I Need a Student Visa to Study for my MBA in the U.S?

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need a student visa to study in the United States. An F-1 visa is required for an MBA program.

Here's the process, according to the U.S. State Department:

  1. Before applying to an MBA program, check to see if it is a SEVP-approved school. You cannot get a U.S. student visa if the school doesn't have approval.
  2. After you are admitted to a school, you will pay a SEVIS-901 fee, and the school will give you a Form I-2.
  3. Bring the completed form to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate when you apply for the visa. You will have to schedule an interview.
  4. You may need to present transcripts of your degrees, standardized scores, and other evidence of academic intent. You will also have to demonstrate how you will pay for tuition, living costs, and travel.
  5. If you intend to bring family members with you while you study, each one will also have to obtain a visa.

You may be able to work part-time while in the U.S. an F-1 visa, though you may be limited to on-campus jobs and to 20 hours per week. Certain exceptions may be granted.

The F-1 visa allows you to stay in the U.S. one year after receiving your degree for Optional Practical Training. You should also check into your country's laws and regulations regarding international travel and visa.

If you are in a STEM-approved MBA program (such as MBA in Information Technology), you may be granted two additional years to stay in the U.S.

If you are hired by a U.S. company and you wish to stay and work, they will need to sponsor you for a work visa.

After the MBA: Top Jobs

With an MBA from a U.S. business school, you may be competitive in several career paths. You could possibly work in your home country or for an international business in an English-speaking country.

Many companies are multinational and want to develop a workforce with a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. Familiarity with U.S business practices and having proficiency in both English and your home language can be viewed as advantages in the job market.

There are MBAs with a specialty in international business. However, whatever area you decide to concentrate in, you could find careers open to your unique educational background. Some possibilities include:

MBA in Accounting: Companies that do business internationally need accountants with knowledge of international accounting standards, tax laws, and regulations.

MBA in Finance: Several U.S. business schools offer concentrations specifically in international finance. You could find work as a finance manager or investment analyst.

Human Resources: You could specialize in recruiting and managing international workers.

MBA in Marketing: Companies that sell products globally need marketing managers who understand cultural differences and regulations.

MBA in Logistics and Supply Chain Management: You might get a job with a company that imports or exports goods or specializes in international shipping.

Resources

Do your research before applying to an MBA program in the U.S. Here are some additional helpful resources.

TOEFL website.
Find out more about the English language proficiency test and if you need to take it.
IETLS website.
Research the requirements and determine whether the TOEFL or the IELTS is more appropriate for you.
U.S. student visa requirements.
This U.S. State Department site will help you understand if you need a student visa, and if you do, which type of visa you need.
U.S. Immigration and Customs
The U.S. immigration system can be confusing. This site will help you understand the rules for students interested in studying in the U.S.
STEM-approved MBA programs.
Find out more about the popular STEM-approved MBA programs and how graduates may be able to extend their stay in the U.S.
Study USA Global podcast.
Each episode highlights a student who has found success studying in the U.S.
U.S Department of Homeland Security, Study in the States.
This site offers resources that explain the rules and regulations governing the nonimmigrant student process in the United States.

karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

marco denovellis

With professional insight from:

Marco De Novellis

Senior Editor, BusinessBecause and GMAC Media

melody jones

Melody Jones

Co-founder, Vantage Point MBA Admissions Counseling

john gibson

John Gibson

Associate Director of Admissions, Purdue University Krannert School of Management