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From Colombia to DC: The MBA Experience as an International Student

Posted by Michelle McGuire on Feb 08, 2019

Tags: Grad school consideration

Alejandra Parra always knew she wanted to live and study abroad. After graduating from college in her home country of Colombia, she moved to Washington, DC, to work at the Embassy of Colombia and pursue her business school dreams. Now a financial consultant at Delphos International and a George Washington University MBA graduate, she shares what her business school experience was like as an international student:

Alejandra ParraWhy did you choose to pursue your MBA?  

I always had an interest in finance, so I thought an MBA would make sense for me! I’ve also always been interested in entrepreneurship and might even want to have my own company one day. So I decided I was ready! I was still at the Embassy of Colombia when I studied for my GMAT, started applying, etc. I initially wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do part-time, so I applied for both full-time and part-time programs. I ended up deciding that a full-time program was better for me as I wanted to transition into a financial role versus continuing my work at the Embassy of Colombia. I didn’t end up considering any other countries other than the US in the process. Since I was already living in DC, I liked the potential opportunities for jobs here so I focused mainly on the DC area when applying.

What was it like to go through the MBA admissions process as an international student? 

I attended those student fairs where you can go and talk to universities about their programs and financing opportunities. Of course, one of the main concerns is financing an MBA. International students cannot apply for student loans in the US since they’re only for US citizens, so I relied heavily on merit-based scholarships. I also applied for some loans in my country since Colombia backs the loans of some students who go abroad for education. So just getting all of the pieces together for financing was a little more complicated as an international student.

What was your experience like as an international MBA student at George Washington? 

I had never studied in English. Thankfully George Washington does have a high percentage of international students, so there were other students facing the same challenge. Finding potential jobs is also a little more challenging as an international student, but the career center prepares you for interviews and helps you apply for opportunities. Also at George Washington the MBA is called a Global MBA and it really does feel global. There are a high percentage of international students (40-50%) and we have a mandatory consulting abroad program. I did mine in Rwanda for the Ministry of Agriculture. There really is good exposure to global markets and businesses.

What surprised you the most about attending business school in the US?  

The approach to education here is more applicable to real life. That also comes with doing an MBA, but we look at real problems from case studies and learn how to solve them. During my undergrad, we looked more at theories and ideas. The format of the classes is also different with more of a participatory discussion between professor and students, while my undergrad was more lecture-based.

Do you have any advice for other international students considering pursuing their MBA? 

Apply early and look at everything as far in advance as possible! Make sure that you are on top of your applications and know the process so you can apply in the earlier rounds. I know that many times they allocate funds for scholarships, but by the final round they’ve already ran out of money. That was a big thing for me and I know people that apply late don’t get to take advantage of some of the funding. Also, merit-based scholarships take into account your GMAT score, so would recommend preparing for the GMAT exam as best you can!

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