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How B-schools treat minority MBA applications

You might’ve heard it from someone, somewhere before. “Schools love minority MBA candidates!” or “If you are a minority MBA applicant, your chances of getting selected are very high!

How true is it? Or just another myth that’s got propagated over the years?

For Indian students who are used to the concept of reservations – in Indian schools, colleges, universities, jobs, politics – the concept of minority candidates at the top international MBA schools might seem like an extension of what they already know.

This makes them evaluate bizarre ways of standing out. We had a guy who wanted to highlight his religion in his MBA application as a differentiating factor saying in India his community (no, not the one that you are assuming) is pretty small. Then there was someone else who wanted to defer his MBA plans by 2 years (he was already older than regular applicants), because he was hoping to get an Australian citizenship by then.

Do minority MBA candidates have an advantage?

Yes, they do. You might be eligible for special treatment while applying (for instance, through the minority MBA consortium), before starting the program (getting minority scholarships / minority MBA fellowships), during the course (joining the minority MBA Association, being eligible to participate in the minority MBA case competition) as well as after graduating (minority MBA jobs).

All those aspects make it just to tempting to ignore!

(Now comes the fine-print) All this is possible only if you truly fall in the under-represented category and your profile is strong enough to add to the diversity of the MBA class. Let’s elaborate on that.

Simplistically and technically speaking, anyone who’s not in the majority would be a minority. In US bschools for instance, roughly 70% of the class is American. So international students should be a minority, right? But that’s not how Admission Committees look at it.

Among the 30% of international students, the number of Indians will be smaller. But that doesn’t push all Indians into the minority category. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. Adcoms get more applications from certain countries like India and China, than probably their own citizens. So in absolute terms, it could be a disadvantage.

The rationale is similar when you compare the male-to-female ratio (also 70:30) in bschools. Being a female MBA applicant from India doesn’t automatically open up the bschool doors, but it can help.

Will you be treated as a minority MBA candidate?

For a majority of the folks reading this, the answer is No.

If you are an African American, Hispanic or part of the Jarawa tribe (that’s been in the news albeit for the wrong reasons), then you are truly underrepresented in the MBA world. LGBT MBA applicants would also get the tick mark.

So now that you know what it means, are you a diversity candidate? You aren’t? Well, no sweat. Here’s the good news.

There is no ‘reservation’ (as we are used to in the Indian systems) in international MBA colleges. There is no obligation for the universities to accept students just because they qualify as minorities.

You can make the minority MBA candidate tag superfluous by focussing on other aspects. Like diversity and uniqueness.

Diversity could come from your profession. Your industry and role might be underrepresented. Or the responsibilities would’ve been unique. If your career has been plain vanilla, your personal life could’ve been been more exciting.

Beyond the initial attention that you’d get for being a minority guy or girl, the Adcoms would want to move on to the more important criteria for MBA admissions. All that you can mention in your MBA essays, MBA recommendations, MBA interviews.

In the over-zealous pursuit of showing yourself as underrepresented MBA applicant, you may be missing the wood for the trees. Keep in mind what the Admission Officer really wants to see in your application.

Be proud of who you are. Don’t try to show yourself as someone just because you think it’ll impress Adcoms of the elite schools.

You are striving to be a better business leader, not a diversity pageant winner. Focus on the excellent work you’ve done. Tell the Adcoms how your innovative perspectives helped your company fix that challenging problem. Highlight the impact you’ve had in the non-work areas – sports, music, social work.

Your nationality, religion, community, gender, sexual orientation are all ‘default settings’ in your life. In all probability, you didn’t have a choice with those labels. There’s so much more that you have worked hard for that you can talk about.

In the hope of getting an edge during MBA admissions, if you had been planning to apply for the citizenship of Cambodia and/or go for a sex change, please put those plans on hold. There are better strategies to explore.

Read about the Consortium MBA aimed at improving diversity.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

4 thoughts on “How B-schools treat minority MBA applications”

  1. Hi,

    I am someone with a mining engineering back ground and 7.9 years of work ex in consulting (Natural Resource industry), business analysis and operations.

    I am currently pursuing the PGPPM from IIM Bangalore and want to do a US mba later on.
    I have a number of queries that I would like to ask:

    1) how are aplicants with a PG degree in public policy and general management considered by the ad-com in US B-Schools ?
    2) I have good work ex however would that work against me in any way in my application ?

    Look forward to hearing from you.


  2. @Anurag: They don’t get too many applicants like you from India in international school. That’s a thumbs up.

    But US schools have an average of 5 yrs experience in the class. That’ll be a bit of a downer.

    You could look at 1 year programs in Europe.

  3. Hello, so being an indian minority(ST), if I mention my struggle with being a northeastern but how I have dealth with that or how I’ve overcome the challenges that I’ve faced will that have an impact?

  4. That guy wanted to defer by 2 years so he could get his Australian citizenship and then apply as an Australian was right on the money. I hope you didn’t disuade him from following through on that plan. The best thing any Indian can do to dramatically increase his chances of getting a top B-school admit is getting rid of his Indian citizenship.


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