Standing Out as an Indian Applicant

India's growing economy has created many exciting opportunities, and with access to business education in the US widely coveted, thousands of Indians are applying to the top business schools each year.  How can someone stand out in the eyes of the admissions committees?  A good start to this process is to first understand what the typical Indian applicant reveals in her application. Let’s go…

1)     The Typical Indian MBA Applicant: Works for a family business

Working for a family business is valuable, because you can often earn high-level responsibility early in your career, manage teams of employees, and gain perspective into how the company works. However, family businesses can sometimes lack the influence and scope of larger companies, and it is difficult for the admissions committee to compare your performance to others.  Applicants with a family business background are also often discounted in their experience by the adcoms because the assumption is that their success was not traditionally earned due to the favor shown by the family.  In short, whether or not they truly earned their success is sometimes called into question.

The DIFFERENTIATED Indian MBA Applicant: Has also made an impact in a bigger pond

An applicant who has proven her abilities in a family business and then applied the skills in management at a large international company is able to demonstrate that she is truly talented beyond the scope of her own family. Letters of recommendation written by impartial superiors, unlike those from family members, employees, or even clients of a family business, carry more weight in the eyes of the admissions committees and can demonstrate that you truly outperform your peers and have honestly won the recognition of senior management. The Differentiated Applicant can then illustrate their impact on this large organization through the resume, work history, and essays.

2)     The Typical Indian MBA Applicant: Works in India's burgeoning high-tech industry

India's high-tech sector has exploded in the past few years as global companies have tapped the highly educated and hardworking population in India.  There is a joke among Indian youth that their parents told them they could become anything in life they wanted, as long as they wanted to be a doctor or engineer. Strong emphasis on family has driven many young Indian students to seek careers in these highly respected arenas, so many of today's business school applicants from India have experience in the high tech industry.  This automatically presents challenges for standing out from the crowd.

The DIFFERENTIATED Indian MBA Applicant: Has gained management and leadership experience

While your background may be in technology, you can prove to the admissions committees that you have what it takes to lead commerce in the future by demonstrating leadership and team management of employees.  Often, reaching this level also brings additional experience in designing company strategy and boosting your company's bottom line, both of which will not only make a positive impression in the MBA application process, but will also generally result in a promotion of title or position.  When you say you earned a promotion at work and can point to the specific reasons why, you will make a better impression than someone who has merely worked on projects as a member of a team.  Instead of just completing important tasks, imagine how much better it sounds to have identified an untapped market and led a taskforce to create a product to tap this niche?   Instead of merely running a functional software development project, think about how much more impressive it might be to have managed a diverse international team of 30 people in the largest revenue producing sector of your company, or having developed relationships with its most prestigious clients?   You get the idea.

3)     The Typical Indian MBA Applicant: Has modest goals

Growing the family business or launching a small business are the two most common ambitions of Indian applicants.  Modesty is also part of the culture, which is admirable, but falls short when the time comes to blow your own horn. 

The DIFFERENTIATED Indian MBA Applicant: Has bigger ambitions

The top business schools in the US are searching for applicants whose ambitions will have large scale impact on an international scale. Think big.  Think impactful.  Think world-changing.  Also, don’t forget to tie it into who you are. Relating your excitement and enthusiasm for your career vision and why you want to achieve it is paramount. You must give the schools insight into the personal reasons behind your decision to pursue your path, because often, Indian applicants are more reticent on personal matters, which ultimately will leave application readers in the dark on who you are and what makes you tick.  That’s what they are really trying to get at through their application questions.

4)     The Typical Indian MBA Applicant: Has myriad extracurricular activities

Unlike many other population groups, who perhaps focus a bit too much on career achievement and not enough on community impact, Indian applicants are often involved in many activities outside of school and work.  Almost every single Indian applicant was involved in leading clubs and/or reunion activities for their various schools.  While doing these things are great, they aren’t enough to truly differentiate.

The DIFFERENTIATED Indian MBA Applicant: Leads their community outside of work

Don't confuse hobbies for involvement and impact. The top business schools are looking for applicants who hold active leadership roles in organizations important to them, not simply those who maintain memberships or loose affiliations. These applicants have continued their involvement and leadership even after college, often starting their own non-profit organizations or clubs. Perhaps your love of the sciences prompted you to found an after-school program with free science tutoring and exciting interactive experiments that now includes 20 schools across India?  Another example:  instead of simply volunteering for the Red Cross, maybe you lead the Red Cross volunteer recruiting efforts across India?   See the difference?

5)     The Typical Indian MBA Applicant: Thinks all top business schools are the same

Indian applicants tend to know they want a top MBA, but they don't do enough research on the programs to determine if and how each aligns with their goals. They tend to give a brief overview of the skills they hope to gain from the MBA and don't demonstrate that they know anything about each program.  Anyone in MBA admissions knows, it’s important to do research on and to visit each school to which you apply.  They are not all the same.

The DIFFERENTIATED Indian MBA Applicant: Knows why she is applying to each school

Understanding each school's program allows you to appeal to your own interests and those of your target school as well. Just as it is in your interest to know what requirements the school has, for instance a fourth post-high school year of study (e.g., the Master in Commerce) before you apply to ensure that your application is even considered, so too it is in your interest to determine if the schools you are considering will meet your needs. If you plan to concentrate in a particular industry, you need to make sure that the schools you are applying to have courses of study in that industry.

The top business schools seek applicants who can demonstrate that they understand the school's goals and how their program will help them meet the applicant's needs. They are looking for applicants who have visited the school, spoken to alumni, researched their specific interests, and know what makes this school distinct.

Putting it all together

Each school is sifting through those hundreds of applications to find the Indian applicants that will be able to benefit from its program and enhance the education and experience of its other students. But determining which stories differentiate your application is daunting.  We can help you sort through your own experience to help you break out of the labels that adcoms try to place on you and help your individuality shine through. 

To find out more about your options and how we can guide your business school application process, email us at or contact us via