In the previous articles of this series we explored the first four elements of your MBA Profile: your Academic Performance, your GMAT, your work experience, and your extracurricular activities. The topic of the last post of this series is probably the most under-rated in business school admissions, and many times the one that non-native English speakers take lightly at their peril: mastery of the English language. The fact that you went to a bilingual school in your home country, or that you use English regularly in your work is not necessarily enough for the level of competence required for your application to a graduate business program.
Unless you completed your undergraduate degree in an English-speaking country, you will need to take one of the English as a Second Language (ESL) tests, such as the TOEFL, PTE, or IELTS, in order to apply to business school. Check which test(s) your target schools accept. Just like the GMAT or GRE, you will need to be familiar with the test well before taking it, and know the minimum score that your chosen schools require for admission.
To show your mastery of the English language, a high score on one of these tests is critical, along with a solid performance on the verbal portion of the GMAT or GRE. You provide further evidence when your essays and the rest of the application are free of grammatical or structural errors. As a non-native English speaker who has vast experience reading, reviewing, evaluating, and now critiquing/editing business school applications and essays, I recommend the following:
1. Significantly increase your reading inEnglish, particularly regarding business issues. You should read every-day publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and The Economist.
2. Read all kinds of books in English. If they are business-related, even better.
3. Watch movies or TV shows in English, listen to the radio, watch videos, listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Use your driving time to listen to audiobooks and podcasts.
4. Participate in blogs, or start your own.
5. If you live in a non-English speaking country, consider online exchange programs to increase your contact with native English speakers and improve your conversational skills. These communities, which are often free, give you the opportunity to interact with another person through Skype or similar software and improve your English, while you help the other party with your native language in exchange. This experience, besides serving as a good language practice, could very well add an interesting twist to your essays or your admissions interviews.
6. Consider joining Toastmasters, or taking advanced English courses, business English or advanced conversation, as a way to improve your written and spoken English.
Even if you have been exposed to the English language from an early age, if you feel your (written or spoken) English is not at the level of graduate school, it’s important that you make an effort to improve it. Most MBA programs require a level of written and verbal comprehension similar to that of a native speaker, and due to the great diversity of the faculty and students coming into their programs, they expect you to understand different accents and participate fluently in the classroom. You will be expected to write, talk, and engage in the program just as your native speaker classmates will, so try to spend some time in the coming months strengthening your mastery of the language.
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By Esmeralda Cardenal, previously the Associate Director of Admissions at Yale SOM, Director of MBA Admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the UK. She is happy to help you showcase your achievements in your MBA application. Want Esmeralda to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!