International students typically make up 25 percent to 40 percent of MBA cohorts at top U.S. business schools.
It's not surprising that the overwhelming majority of applicants from Latin America want to pursue an MBA degree in the U.S. According to data from the most recent QS Top MBA Applicant Survey, more than 70 percent say the U.S. is their destination of choice, followed by Canada at 30.3 percent.
The poll also confirms that Latin American applicants place a high value on specializations -- higher than any other world region -- in order to meet their individual needs. While all b-school hopefuls should tailor their school selections to those that will enhance their career, this is particularly important for students who plan to return to their home countries after graduation. Latin American applicants should research the strength of each potential school's international placement records and alumni network before applying.
Travel expenses can make campus visits difficult, so applicants from Latin America should not miss the opportunity to participate in local "coffee chats," which are typically organized and led by current students while visiting their home countries during winter break.
In an April post to the Daytime MBA Student Blog of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Joaquin Brahm of Chile calls coffee chats "a must" in the application process. These informal events, often held in homes, are a great resource for applicants to hear firsthand about all aspects of the MBA experience, including personal questions about everyday student life.
"We received only good feedback about coffee chats in Latin America," says Yonathan Lapchik, admissions cabinet member of the Latin American Student Association at Fuqua. "Prospective students found it a very useful step in their application process. Our idea is to continue developing these kinds of events in the future and establish them as another resource for applicants in their pathway to Fuqua."
Many MBA programs offer incentives and scholarships to applicants from Latin America, and some schools are introducing efforts to attract potential candidates. Last year, the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School launched a Latin American Visitor Program designed to encourage prospective full-time MBA students from Latin America to visit the campus.
The program provides a travel subsidy of $600 and waives the $145 admissions application fee for up to 20 sponsored students. Kenan-Flagler also offers up to 10 full-tuition fellowships to applicants from Latin America each year as part of the new Fellowship for the Americas award.
As I often write on this blog, the admissions committee wants to get to know each applicant beyond their resume, and the MBA essays are the perfect opportunity to share unique personal or family background information that would allow the reader to understand your core values and motivations.
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One of my clients discussed being the first from his family to go to college, and the intensity of breaking family tradition and moving away. This made for a much more interesting essay than merely naming the school that he went to. In other words, that back story -- the discussion of the decision -- was the most interesting part.
Another client also wove family into her application by addressing a brother's serious illness and how it affected family relations, events and her personal and professional goals. Don't be afraid to open up with details of experiences that set you apart and have shaped the person you are today.
Since English likely isn't your first language, it's important to demonstrate a high level of fluency that will allow you to contribute actively to class discussions. This you can do during your MBA interview.
Whether you interview over the phone, by video chat or in-person, make sure you practice beforehand with a native English speaker or someone who has lived in the U.S. for a long time and who can provide feedback on American business etiquette or your English language usage.
Once on campus, you'll gain access to a network stretching across the U.S. and around the globe. Try to network with Latino alumni who hold leadership positions in the U.S. and are often looking to groom the next generation.
During recruiting, keep in mind U.S. companies may not want to hire someone if it involves helping them obtain an H-1B visa, since the employer must prove it has searched extensively for a qualified U.S. citizen or permanent resident and that the international candidate is the best option.
However, if the company is an international firm and you're willing to relocate elsewhere in Latin America or to a region where visa sponsorship won't be an issue, ask about hiring options outside of the U.S. Your American MBA will put you leagues ahead of local applicants.
As business relationships across the Americas continue to expand, MBA applicants from Latin America can rest assured they have much to contribute to the U.S. business school classroom, particularly where cultural differences, language issues and differing business practices come into play.