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International Students

The appeal of an American education is a strong one, and the desire for an MBA is even higher. As a chart-topping master’s degree, the MBA is coveted by students around the world. Each year, more and more international students have decided to earn their MBA at an American institution. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, as of 2016, 14 percent of students in the U.S. in the field of business and management were international students.

As of fall 2016, 14%
of the students in the US in
the field of business and management
were international students

You might be wondering; how did these students do it? What were the steps necessary to enroll and study in American business schools? Our international MBA student guide will help you get your questions answered.

Advantages of Receiving Your MBA in the U.S.


The MBA is a uniquely American degree, with the first program founded at Harvard Business School in 1908. Over 1,000 quality MBA programs are currently offered in the U.S., and the degree has become a staple in business colleges and universities, with a variety of business specializations available—from Business Administration to Sports Management. This means earning an MBA from an accredited American program holds prestige and merit and is recognized as such globally. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) some 17.8 percent of international students believe this to be true, and have enrolled in MBA programs in the U.S.


When comparing U.S. and international MBA programs, it’s common to find that international programs are designed to be about one year in length, as opposed to the two-year commitment of an American degree. While this may mean more money and time in the short-term, a longer program allows for more elective and specialty courses to be taken, including certification classes. This may also allow students to have more internship or fellowship opportunities, leaving more time to put theory into practice and accomplish goals. In terms of job placement, the longer someone works or interns at a company, the more likely they are to make an impression and be hired full-time in the future.

Another factor to consider is where you want to work. If you want to work in the U.S., it’s best for you to earn your MBA in the States as well. An American business education is always recognized by American companies, but a foreign education may not be as widely accepted considering differences in curriculum or program length. When it comes to networking and building connections, you’re also most likely to get a job where you’ve been building a base of professional contacts and work experiences.

Necessary Exams

No matter which program of study international students wish to attend, if English is not the sole language of instruction, they must take an English proficiency test, such as the TOEFL or the IELTS exam. Every school has different requirements, so it is necessary to check each school to see which test they accept. In general, the TOEFL is the most widely accepted, specifically the TOEFL iBT, which is the Internet-based test. One exception may be that a student does not have to take a proof of English competency exam if he or she completed their undergraduate degree at university in the United States.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

The TOEFL is designed to test your understanding of English at the university level. More than 30 million people have taken the test, with the average skill level ranging between intermediate and advanced.

What is tested?
The test evaluates how well you combine listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks.

Who takes the test?

  • Students planning to study in higher education
  • Students planning to study in an English language learning program
  • Scholarship and certification candidates
  • Students or workers applying for visas

What does it cost?
Registration and fees depend on the country where the test is being taken.

Here’s a breakdown of each section on the TOEFL iBT test.

Section Time Limit Questions Tasks
Reading 60-80 minutes 36-56 questions Answer questions based on reading 3-4 academic passages
Listening 60-90 minutes 34-51 questions Answer questions based on lectures, classroom discussions and conversations
Break 10 minutes
Speaking 20 minutes 6 tasks Express an opinion on a familiar topic, or talk about one of the reading and listening tasks
Writing 50 minutes 2 tasks Support an opinion, or respond to one of the reading and listening tasks

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

With more than 2.7 million tests taken in 2015, the IELTS test comes in two formats depending on test takers’ needs. The IELTS Academic test is for those applying for higher education or professional registration in an English speaking environment, whereas the General Training test is for those who are seeking secondary education, work experience or training programs in English speaking countries.

What is tested?
The exam covers listening, speaking, reading and writing to test if you’re ready to begin studying or working in English-spoken environments.

Who takes the test?

IELTS Academic:

  • Students looking to study at the undergraduate or postgraduate levels
  • Those seeking professional registration

IELTS General Training:

  • Students looking to study at below degree level
  • Those wishing to migrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the UK

What does it cost?
Registration and fees depend on the country where the test is being taken.

Section Time Limit Questions Tasks
Listening 30 minutes 40 questions Answer questions based on 4 listening sections that include conversations and monologues
Reading 60 minutes 40 questions Answer questions about main ideas and detail based on three reading sections, depending on whether you take the IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training exams
Writing 60 minutes 2 tasks Respond to two writing tasks that could include explaining, giving your point of view or describing visual information, depending on whether you take the IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training exam
Speaking 11-14 minutes 3 tasks Take part in three sections that include an interview, speaking at length about a topic and having a discussion about a certain topic

Necessary Paperwork

All students must supply schools with proof that they have met their MBA program requirements. It’s important to remember that every school has different requirements, but here is a list of potential application materials you will need to submit in order to officially be accepted into your program:


Complete application for each school


An admissions essay


A résumé


Official GMAT or GRE scores


Official English proficiency test scores


Official academic transcripts

Don’t forget to provide an English translation copy of anything that is in another language.

Although you are interested in online degrees, it may be beneficial to understand some of the processes involved for on-campus learning should you choose to pursue a traditional degree program in the future. Before you can request your student visa to study in the United States, you must first be accepted to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school. After official acceptance into the school, you and a designated school official (DSO) will work together to complete the necessary government paperwork to apply for your visa. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need, in order.

Form I-20: Known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, you will receive this form from every school that accepts you. Use the form from the school you decide to attend to pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee. Make sure to keep your I-901 receipt because you will need it later for your visa interview. Both you and the school will need to sign this form. Make sure to bring this with you when you enter the U.S.

To pay your I-901 SEVIS fee:

F-1 Visa: Because you will be entering the United States as an academic student, you will need to apply for an F-1 visa. To apply, you will do so through your U.S. Embassy or Consulate 120 days before the date listed on your Form I-20. To file a nonimmigrant visa application, you will fill out Form DS-160, which will require a specific photo of you. Once your visa is approved, you may pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality and informed how your visa will be returned.

To fill out the DS-160 online:

Schedule an interview: If you are between the ages of 14 and 79, you will be required to participate in a visa interview. If you are 80 or older, you will most likely not be required to have an interview. Generally, your interview will take place at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. During the interview, the consular officer will determine if you are qualified for a visa, and you will most likely have your fingerprints scanned as well. Before you attend your interview, you should gather all required documentation, which includes:

  • A passport valid for travel in the U.S. and valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay
  • Your Form I-20, along with the I-20 forms of all spouses and minor children who intend to reside in the U.S. with the student
  • You I-901 receipt
  • Your DS-160 confirmation page
  • Your DS-160 photo

Additional documentation: You may be required to provide additional documents when you are applying for your visa. These could include:

  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, certificates or other academic documentation
  • Your intent to depart the U.S. after you finish studying in your program
  • A breakdown of how you will pay your educational, living and travel costs

Form I-94: Once you enter the U.S., a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) official will provide you with an admission stamp or a Form I-94, which is an arrival/departure record.

*Once your program or training ends, you have an additional 60 days from the date listed on your Form I-20 to depart the United States.

Learn more about attaining your visa:

Financial Aid

For the most part, universities allocate the majority of their financial aid to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It’s important to check with each individual university to see what scholarship funds they have available for international students, as some strongly encourage international applicants. Usually, the funds set aside for international students are for graduate study, so, as an online MBA student, you are in luck.

Keep in mind that you will have many necessary steps to fund your education so you can study in your MBA program. Here are items you should budget for:


Applications fees


Test fees


Visa/SEVIS fees


Tuition and fees


Books and supplies


Personal expenses

There are also websites available for international students to search for scholarships and filter what their program of study is and where they are from. Here is a list of resources to find scholarships:

College Board

A non-profit organization connecting students with college success and opportunity.


An online scholarship search provider.

International Education Financial Aid (IEFA)

A resource for financial aid, scholarships and grants for U.S. and international students who wish to study abroad.

International Scholarships

A comprehensive list of grants, scholarships and loans for students who wish to study abroad.

Mobility International USA

A free online resource for financial aid for non-U.S. citizens with disabilities.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

A global organization dedicated to interconnected communities and sustainable social and environmental development.

Federal student loans are not available for non-U.S. citizens, however, international students may find private loans to help fund their education. These loans will require a U.S. co-signer to apply, and this co-signer is legally obligated to pay the loan if the borrower fails to do so.

It is also possible that your country’s government provides scholarships for students to study in programs in other countries.

Work Options

There are strict employment rules in place for non-U.S. citizens who wish to work in the United States, however, if you were to study in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, you would have access to restricted work options. During your first year in your program, you would be eligible to work in certain on-campus jobs. After your first year, you can work in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) positions related to your area of study. Your Designated School Official (DSO) would need to approve any of your MBA-related off-campus work.

If you wish to work in the U.S. after receiving your MBA, you will need to apply for an H-1B visa. You must meet two requirements in order to obtain the work visa.

Requirement 1
You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer. This means that a U.S. employer can hire, pay, fire, supervise or otherwise control the H-1B worker.
Requirement 2
Your job must qualify as a specialty occupation by meeting one of the following criteria:
• A bachelor’s degree or higher
• The degree requirement for the position, based on job duties
Requirement 3
Your job must be in a specialty occupation related to your field of study. You may need to provide evidence that your job is related to your degree.
Requirement 4
You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher. The prevailing wage is determined by the position and geographical location where you will work.
Requirement 5
An H-1B visa number must be available at the time of filing the petition, unless the petition is exempt from numerical limits.

H-1B visas are capped at 65,000 each fiscal year, however the first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap, as well as those who work for a non-profit research organization, an institution of higher education or a government research organization.

For jobs related to specific MBA degrees, take a look at the Careers section in Part 7 of this guide for more information.

Housing Options

If you’re a student studying on-campus, many colleges have special housing set aside for international students, but it is likely to fill up quickly. Another popular means of housing for international students is something called “homestay,” which matches students with families who are willing to house and feed the student for a fee. This can be a great way to get to know American culture and the English language.


If you are getting your MBA online, you have the benefit of studying from anywhere in the world, especially from the comfort of your own home. With this luxury, you won’t need to worry about housing options, and you can often maintain working while studying—a major savings.

The most important thing to remember as an international student is that you can achieve your MBA in the U.S., which opens up an opportunity to learn from a business-driven culture. Earning your MBA through an American university also gives you an increased chance of finding a job in the U.S. if you desire.

Please visit the other sections of our online MBA guide to find out more about how you can start your education today.

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