A downturn in job prospects has turned international MBA students away from studying at American business schools.
According to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), only 47% of US companies plan to hire international talent this year, compared to 55% in 2017. It’s a worrying trend, with anxieties over visas and the policies of the current administration to blame.
However, this change in fortunes isn’t deterring everybody.
For Indian applicant Vidur Yash Ahluwalia, the US is still top of his list when looking at MBA programs that he wants to apply to, with five schools on his radar: Chicago Booth, Kellogg, Dartmouth Tuck, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Vidur is currently working as sales VP at a consulting firm in India, but he cherishes ambitions of becoming a full-time entrepreneur, an MBA being a key step in this journey.
One major factor for Vidur in shortlisting his schools was international prestige: he is looking for a school that will put him on the map. “It’s not particularly the US [itself],” Vidur explains. “How I shortlisted my schools was the rankings—and of course, most of the schools that were ranked best in the world were from the US.”
An MBA has always been part of Vidur’s career plan—many of his family members have MBA qualifications under their belts already—his brother will be starting an MBA at Michigan Ross this year.
Vidur believes that despite the uncertainty around securing employment in the US post-graduation, by undergoing a program there he will be upping his international mobility—a valuable asset as he moves into the next phase of his career.
“Even though I think the job prospects for MBA students are slightly less than what I would have elsewhere, such as Canada, I know that doing an MBA from the US will help me move globally,” he explains.
“Even if I don’t get a job in the US, I know that I’m secure—I can probably come back to my home country, explore Asian countries, [or go to] other countries that have better job prospects.”
The schools on Vidur’s shortlist weren’t only picked for their prestige. There were several other elements in play in Vidur’s decision—chief among them the schools’ networking potential.
“Once I had those schools in mind, I went up to see how strong the alumni network is,” Vidur recalls. “[Then] the class size, because I don’t want to be in a class that has a lot of students, or a class that has very few.”
For aspiring entrepreneurs, network is everything, so being part of a class that is big enough to extend his networking reach, while also being small enough to get to know everyone on a deeper level, is paramount for Vidur. Were there any schools that particularly stood out in this respect?
“I really love Darden,” Vidur answers. “Why I love [it] specifically is because of the student culture there, so I also met some representatives from Darden in November—that inclined me to look at student culture as a factor.”
Darden’s class comprises a total of 326 students, 34% of whom come from abroad—another priority for Vidur, who is keen for his network to expand across the globe post-graduation.
Other schools on Vidur’s list have similar figures: at Kellogg, for example, the class size is 478 with international students composing 35% of the cohort; at Chicago Booth, the 582-strong group has 59 countries represented with 36% of the class coming from abroad.
While he always had an MBA in his career plan, Vidur says that when it came to starting the application process, there were lots of elements that he hadn’t anticipated.
“The GMAT was in itself a huge task,” he recalls. “Especially if you’re applying to top MBA schools, even a slight point difference or a percentile difference matters a lot.
“In my profile, I only have two years of experience up till now, and the schools that I’m applying to [look for] average work experience of three to four years, so I knew that the GMAT was the first hurdle that I had to face because I had to make that up somewhere.”
Even once the GMAT was out of the way, Vidur found that school selection was immensely difficult, with factors such as course content, cost, and the recruiters that hire from there all coming into play.
“The regular strategy that everyone uses is [based on the fact that] the average school acceptance rate is about 15-to-20%,” Vidur says. “So, you choose five to six schools so that the odds are that you get selected into one of them.”
Now, he’s finally onto the essays and resume section of his application—one of the most important elements—and he is feeling confident about his chances of success. “I never thought that a single page of resume would take two-to-three weeks of effort,” he says, “so I’ve been working on it with Barbara Coward, my consultant.”
Vidur knows applying to business school is no easy task. So, is it all worth it?
“Yes, of course!” Vidur smiles. “I’ve learned a lot and now I’m clear about what I want to do in the future. The road might be a little bumpy, but I know where I want to go, and how I will get there.”