Dear Prep Professor — I hear that top MBA programs value international experience. What can I do to expand the international experience I feature in my MBA application?
International experience, both personal and professional, is valued by MBA admissions committees. You will be competing in a global economy once you graduate; so admissions officers and corporate recruiters will value professionals who understand the world is round and have ventured beyond the familiarity of their own borders and their own cultural environment.
Unfortunately, landing a job in a foreign country is never easy because of visa requirements as well as the limited number of opportunities for international work experience presented by most pre-MBA careers. So let me offer you a few ideas for expanding your international experience even if you cannot land a job overseas.
- Education-Oriented Travel: Business schools tend to value education-oriented travel experiences over leisure travel; you’ll receive much more credit for even a short stint studying abroad than you will from a vacation at a tourist class hotel and a few days museum-hopping and bar-hopping.
- International Volunteer Trips: We have had a few MBA Prep School students who have done volunteer service trips to other countries. These are valuable, especially when you are teamed with peers from other countries when you arrive in the new country. In that way, you are getting a two-for-one benefit. You are in a new, international setting and collaborating with team members who are from cultures different than your own.
- Cross-Cultural Community Service: Another novel way to interact with other cultures without leaving your home city is to join a community service organization that will allow you to help people from cultures different than your own. For example, one of our candidates joined a non-profit that helped first-generation immigrants cope with the challenges of settling in the United States. He taught language courses and also put together a special seminar on business and interviewing skills.
- International Work Opportunities in Your Home Country: You might be able to take on cross-border projects as part of your current job. Although a quick “tour of duty” to complete a project in another country would be ideal, if that’s not possible, maybe there is a project you could work on locally which will require you to study a foreign market. Remember that even if you deal with suppliers or customers or collaborate with a team in a different timezone remotely, you will still be able to point to this international, cross-cultural experience as part of your MBA application.
We don’t mean to discount the value of travel to other countries as a tourist. Just be sure to venture outside of the curated confines of the museums and to interact with the locals. That’s where the most valuable (and memorable) international experiences are to be found.