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What African Applicants Need To Know About Applying To Top Business Schools In Europe

Living in Africa and thinking of applying to a business school in Europe? We spoke to top schools to find out the dos and don’ts

Sat Jun 15 2024

Europe has a lot to offer when it comes to business education, including strong career prospects, diverse cohorts, and exciting travel opportunities. 

Many European business schools even offer scholarships for African students to make their master's degrees more accessible. 

We spoke to business school experts to find out what you need to do if you want to send off a successful master's application to a European business school. Here are their answers to a few important questions.

How do you choose the right business school program?

Other than consulting business schools’ websites, what can you do to choose the right business school program for you?

Start by looking at the gaps in your profile

Robert Waters, senior manager of global markets at IE Business School says: “Don't seek out a program for the sake of doing a master's degree, asking a university ‘Which program is right for me?’ Instead, seek out what gaps you have in your profile and what you need to improve upon.”

Starting by identifying the skills you need, you can make a better investment by choosing a school that caters to that demand.

Understand your “why”

93c76c7dc74f186035843b730d16ac66d0e48ec7.png Boban Sublic (pictured right), deputy director of admissions at ESMT Berlin, says: “Our advice would be to do as much self-reflection as possible before even applying.

“As there are many roads that lead to Rome, and doing a master’s is only one of them, being able to show that you have considered the ‘why’ behind going for graduate management education can help set you on a track towards an even better application.”

Talk to people in your desired industry

Another way to determine what you need a business master's to provide is by speaking to people who are already working in your dream role or industry.

The admissions team at Bayes Business School says: “It may be useful to do some independent research and talk to people in the industry to ensure that your intended career path aligns with your background and interests.”

Contact current and recent students

2e48aaa89a8a1d9510a6543ee659ada6dc84d4c1.png “Connect with current students and recent graduates,” says Paolo Cancelli (pictured right), director of student outreach and support at Bocconi University.

“This is the best way to hear from first-hand experience about the campus environment, the classroom experience and also living and studying in a specific country.”

Attend events to get a first-hand experience

You can also get a taste of the school experience yourself by attending a school’s events.

Boban at ESMT Berlin, says: “Try to attend online Q&A sessions, a one-on-one with a member of the admissions team, a trial master class, or even come to an Open House to experience the campus and the faculty first-hand.”

Look at recent grads’ careers to see typical career outcomes

Finally, look at graduates' careers after leaving the program. You can look graduates up individually on LinkedIn, or explore the school’s published data.


Sarah Stubbings (pictured right), head of MSc admissions at Imperial College Business School in London, says, “You may have the opportunity to review employment reports for previous cohorts so you can see what type of roles students get after they graduate.”

What’s the right way to plan a business school application?

So you’ve chosen your target schools. Now comes a new challenge: planning your business school application. Here’s how to do it right.

Start early and plan ahead

Elaine Aherne head of student recruitment and admissions at UCD Smurfit School of Business says candidates should waste no time in planning their applications.

“Start the process as early as possible. Applicants should be informed and aware of the admission requirements for the program they are interested in and ensure they have all the documents needed.”

This enables you to plan enough time to complete each task to the best of your ability.

Advance planning is especially important for candidates from outside the EU: “The processing of visas can take up to three months from Africa,” says Elaine.

Sarah at Imperial also advises that “There is often high demand for [English language] tests over the summer months, so it is important you start preparing as soon as possible!”

Follow all instructions closely

Don’t deviate from the instructions given to you by the school.

“When applying, make it as easy as possible for the admissions officer and admissions panel to assess your application,” says the Bayes team.

“This means submitting all the required documents with your application, checking that all documents are in order and clear to read, and explaining any inconsistencies in your academic background (such as course/institution transfers or gaps in education history).”

How can you write a successful application essay?

Writing a business school application essay can be one of the most daunting parts of the application process, especially if English isn’t your first language. Here’s how to ace it.

Tailor it to your target program

Paolo at Bocconi University advises applicants to make their fit for their target program clear in their essays.

“Mention some of the characteristics of the university/program you deem important for your future career goals.”

“Show the admissions office how your profile can fit into the multicultural setting of Europe and how it can enhance the European values of democracy, freedom, human rights and equality.”

Focus on the future

“Focus on the future,” says the Bayes team. “What are your career aspirations and how will taking this degree help you to achieve them?”


Alexandra Barnett (pictured right), recruitment and admissions director for graduate master’s programs at London Business School (LBS), agrees.

“The best answers are well researched—not just into London Business School, but they can tell a cohesive story about themselves and why a master’s is their next step,” she says.

“A strong essay isn't just reflective, it's aspirational and outlines a candidate’s unique contributions to London Business School.”

Make it personal

Lastly, and most importantly, showcase who you are in your essay.

“Consider that out of many essays, students will typically cover the same items, so if you can dig deeper and share a personal experience, quality, or X-factor, in a sincere and vulnerable way, the authenticity will come through and it will add that extra dimension to make your application even stronger,” says Robert at IE.

Alexandra at LBS agrees. She adds that African candidates shouldn’t shy away from embracing their back story in their essays.

“Your experiences and culture play a big part in shaping your perspective. It is important to lean into them and highlight how your personal background, alongside your academic and professional experience, will support your potential to thrive in the community.”

How important is the GMAT to your business school application?

The GMAT is the part of your business school application that may take the most time. Here’s what schools want you to know about the GMAT.

The GMAT is used to gauge academic ability

04cf3fcb7de48d82cc95f589b4a5ff233c579338.png "The GMAT, GPA, grade requirements, and English proficiency test are critical to an application and our primary admission requirements," says Kristine Sydhagen (pictured right), senior coordinator at BI Norwegian Business School. 

"In particular, the GMAT allows us to standardize student’s academic abilities and preparedness for the rigor of our master programs. For international applicants from outside BI’s partner institution network, the GMAT is the first document we review. 

"BI has different minimum score requirements depending on whether the candidate has taken the old GMAT test or the [updated GMAT exam]."

Your GMAT score isn’t the be-all and end-all

If you have a lower GMAT score, you may be able to compensate with a strong academic or professional record, and vice versa.

Often, schools use a GMAT score to see where your skills fall relative to other applicants.

“We look at the percentile ranking that a student has achieved,” says Boban at ESMT Berlin. “This allows us to compare applicants who have taken different admission tests as we get a sense of where they fall within the pool of test takers.”

Don’t waste schools’ time

With that said, listen to schools’ guidelines regarding the GMAT.

0579bd286b66bc2a00f3b27ffbf6a3652f1eb286.jpg “If the university lists the minimum score for the program on the website, do not expect to be admitted without meeting or ideally exceeding this,” says Robert at IE (pictured right).

“Similarly, only ask for a GMAT or exam waiver if it is specifically stated as being offered. Sometimes the admissions process is about how well you can follow instructions, too.”

What English language test do I need for business school?

Many international business programs in Europe are taught entirely in English. You need to demonstrate that you’re prepared for this in your business school application.

Most universities accept a minimum of C1 English language level

Some universities, like the University of St.Gallen, don’t have a hard language requirement.


Nadine Hoehener (pictured right), St.Gallen's manager of marketing, recruitment, and admissions, says: “It is up to the students to make sure that they master the language of instruction. The recommended level of English is minimum C1.”

When applying to schools that do have an English language level requirement, you have a few options for proving it.

Paolo at Bocconi University says, “Internationally recognized tests such as IELTS or TOEFL are welcome in the majority of universities.  University degrees awarded in English can also satisfy the requirement.”

Choose a test provider that works for you

When choosing between the different test options accepted by your target business schools, the Bayes team says to think strategically.

“You should choose the test that you are most familiar with or, if you have not taken an English test before, do some research on the test providers to see how they differ in test format, test locations, ease of booking the test, speed of results, and so on.”

What do schools look for in a business school recommendation letter?

A business school recommendation letter is a letter written on your behalf by a trusted acquaintance, giving the admissions team an insight into your attitude, your strengths, your ambitions, and achievements.

Choose a professional reference who knows you well

Alexandra at LBS says: “The best recommendations are written by someone who you've had many interactions with and can comment on your professional and/or personal qualities.

“We prefer a professional reference to get an insight into your best self at work, as well as areas for development.”

Prep your recommender before they write the letter

“We would recommend contacting your referees in advance, to let them know that we will be in touch for the reference request,” says Sarah at Imperial. “This way you can avoid possible delays with your application.”

You should also advise them on what to include in their letter.

“Applicants need to take time to prepare their recommenders and give them helpful information,” says Boban at ESMT Berlin. “We suggest meeting with them before they write the letter, so they really understand why the student is applying to a particular program.”

If you don’t have a professional reference, an academic one can work

A professional reference is usually the best choice for a business school application. However, if you don’t have a suitable one, an academic supervisor can work.

“Even though not specifically requested in order to apply to Bocconi MSc programs, recommendation letters from professors can provide information on the student’s attitude for a certain subject but also his/her learning style,” says Paolo.

How do you prepare for a business school interview?

Once you’ve put together a great business school application, it’s time to seal the deal in your business school interview. While not all will require one—BI Norwegian generally doesn't hold interviews for most of its Master of Science programs but instead selects according to GPA and correct documentation—many programs will.
Top interview tips from schools are:

Be yourself

“The goal of the interview is to get to know you beyond what you can tell us on paper,” says Nadine at St.Gallen. “Therefore, the most important thing is to be authentic and to share your honest thoughts.”

Show the panel your personality and be clear about your reasons for wanting to study in the program.

Communicate clearly and professionally

“[The interview] is a university's glimpse into your professionalism, non-verbal communication, soft skills, presentation abilities, and general idea of how you present yourself,” says Robert at IE.

There are a few ways of making sure you communicate well in your business school interview.

“We always recommend candidates have a method to structure their answers, to convey their examples in a logical and cohesive way—the STAR method is an easy one to remember,” says Alexandra at LBS.

Ensure your body language is positive

“Give natural, well-structured and confident answers and remember to be polite and enthusiastic,” says Boban at ESMT.

This is important even in a video interview.

“Look at the camera, show self-confidence, express short sentences and go straight to the point!” says Paolo at Bocconi University.

Ask questions

Finally, remember to ask questions during your interview. Not only does it show interest in your target school, but it is an important opportunity for you to get more information about your target school.

“Interviews are also a two-way process,” says Alexandra at LBS. “You're most likely interviewing with an alumnus, and it is your opportunity to confirm if this is the school and brand you want to be a part of—don't forget to ask questions.”

And finally...

Remember, there are many pathways to business school, so take time to work out the best route for you. If you're not quite ready to dive right in, you could consider a pre-masters program, such as UCD Smurfit offers. This is designed to prepare students to undertake their studies at UCD Smurfit. "Students who successfully complete the pre-masters and pre-sessional program will progress automatically to UCD masters programs," explains Elaine from UCD.

Don't forget also that schools have dedicated admissions teams who will be keen to support candidates through the application process. Don't forget to check schools' websites for as much detail as possible, join schools' admissions webinars and in-person or virtual events—and reach out to the admissions team if you have specific queries. Good luck!