Less than 2% of global MBA candidates are from Africa, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). The scarcity of applicants from Africa is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it reflects that many applicants don’t know as much about tackling the admissions process or have as many resources as their peers in other parts of the world.
On the other hand, it gives great applicants from Africa an advantage when applying to diversity-obsessed business schools.
Much of the advice on business school applications is US-centric, so here are five rules for applying to international schools from the African continent.
1. Educate yourself
Legendary American football coach Bill Parcells once said: ‘When you don't know that you don't know, it's a lot different than when you do know that you don't know.’ Applicants from many countries have been exposed to aspects of the process that you may have not been. Research all you can. This means talking to alumni and admissions officers and trawling the web for information on different business schools.
Business schools in Africa tend to favour slightly older, more traditional candidates, with more management experience than do business schools in the US or Europe. Spend time on your research, and on thinking critically about what you find. Then demonstrate this in your application.
Kara Keenan Sweeney, director of admissions, marketing, and communications at The Lauder Institute, which offers a dual degree in International Studies with Wharton, says: “The temptation to simply copy and paste essays, especially when applying to multiple schools, can be great. But it’s best to avoid making any simple mistakes like that because admissions committees are well-versed in reading generic responses to essays. Be sure to speak to the specific school’s strengths and definitely do your research.”
2. Give yourself enough time
According to GMAC, the average applicant spends about a year on the application process. You will hear stories about applicants who get through the process in weeks, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
Make sure you have a good timeline. You may need extra time to speak to your referrers about what is expected of them, or to save. You’ll also want to apply in earlier rounds to make sure you can get your student visa processed in time. In general, applying in earlier rounds also gives you a better chance of securing scholarships.
3. Tackle the GMAT
Africa as a region has the lowest GMAT average in the world. There are many reasons why the GMAT does not always reflect the true potential of students from Africa. Make sure you understand these reasons and understand the correct approach to the test. Research every aspect of the test and practice incessantly.
4. Give context
It’s likely an international admissions committee won’t have heard of your university, or company. It’s also possible they may not understand your particular context or the norms in your country. It’s up to you to explain. Perhaps your course has a 10% acceptance rate and you were top of your class, or you were the first woman to be promoted into a top position in your company. You might also have been affected by challenges or exposed to opportunities unique to your country. Make sure you get these factors across in your application.
5. Be authentic
Stuart MacWilliam, a 2015 Harvard Business School alum from South Africa, says: “Embrace the fact that you are from Africa; don’t try to be a US management consultant. Tell your story. It’s about who you are, and not what you think they want to hear.”
Admissions officers are looking for diverse views and different perspectives and experiences represented in the class. Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer to an international classroom.