By Ben Feuer, photo by Roman Pfieffer

So you want to travel abroad in order to attend a top American or European business school?  Good for you.  There's just one little problem -- hundreds (or thousands, depending on your country of residence ... I'm looking at you, India!) of other people just as qualified as you are targeting those same exact seats. Fortunately, you have us on your side!  Check out this free three-step primer on how to prepare for your overseas MBA application.

1. Get clear on your goals and why you need a foreign MBA to pursue them.  Let's be honest -- although there are applicants who genuinely need the education a top school like HBS or Wharton can offer, there's also a lot of people who are just looking for prestige, a bigger network or a quick fix for a stalled career. If you fall into one of these latter categories, you have a problem, because no one in admissions wants to hear you whine about getting passed over for a promotion yet again. Fortunately, the trouble is mostly between your ears, and therefore, it's a relatively straightforward fix. Paying attention?  Good.

Past is prologue.

Got that? You are not defined by the four or five things that are currently frustrating you. You are the sum of the experiences, challenges and desires that have brought you to this point. Take a step back and look at your career from a higher vantage point. Where are you headed?  Is it somewhere exciting, inspirational? Who are you bringing along for the ride -- what troubled group out there are you preparing to serve?  It doesn't matter if you're a Private Equity quant jock or a burned-out prince of the non-profits in DC, the question is the same. What's next, and just how amazing is it going to be once it comes?

2. Know your role ... and your history. A good application to business school is an exercise in empathy -- you must put yourself in the admissions officer's shoes. She is trying to build a cohesive class. Where do you fit in? Look at your target schools. How many people like you did Stanford admit last year? What were they up to before arriving on campus?

Review your own work and travel history, both to figure out where you're the best fit, and what you have done that a top foreign school might find attractive.  Have you been the big fish in the small pond, changemaking like a boss?  Have you explored cultures and perspectives a top US or Euro MBA program might find intriguing?  What, and who, do you know that can help you to stand out?

3.  Shore up your fundamentals. Depending on exactly which country you are applying from, you may have an exceptionally competitive regional 'bucket' -- people from your area may only be able to claim seats when their fundamentals exceed even the usual lofty bar set by Booth, Kellogg and other top MBA programs. So make sure not to give them any reason to ding you on this account.  Your GMAT, GRE, and transcripts should be as strong as you can possibly make them. If your percentiles are lacking, study and retake. If you can't conquer one test, try the other. If you need more time and you're under 25, take a year to prepare. If your transcript and resume are thin on quantitative rigor, consider a one-year masters program.

So once you've done all that, what next?  Then, my friend, you are ready to take the plunge and begin planning your actual applications.  And that's when you should probably call us.

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MBAs and entrepreneurs do not have a monopoly on innovative leadership.  Here are a couple of worldwide initiatives to combat social issues.

By Ben Feuer

The Daily Mail has an interesting story today about China.  Apparently, the pollution problem in Beijing is becoming a serious public health crisis, and as one might expect from a state with a strong central government, top-down solutions are the order of the day.  China's pilot program in Lanzhou will use giant cannons to spray water into the air, soaking the pollution and dragging it down to Earth.

Pollution is a big problem, but the problem with China's solution is that it is complex and heavy handed -- the expense and difficulty of building giant water cannons mean that the solution's scale will be limited, and, more importantly, huge actions have huge consequences, usually unforeseen.  I really wish someone would mention that to the Beijing Weather Modification Office.

Italy is addressing a similarly intractable social problem, recidivism, by incentivizing literacy in prisons.  They are offering to shave up to 48 days off of an inmate's sentence if he reads up to 16 books in jail.  They argue that reading books keeps prisoners quiet and encourages self-reflection.

This is more of a small ball approach, much cheaper and more practical to implement on a wide scale if it is successful.  It is also a bottom up reform rather than top down; the prisoner must still choose to read the book if he wants to reap the benefits.  (Still, how are they going to prove he read it cover to cover -- make him take a quiz?)  The scope of its potential impact seems limited compared to pointing a fancy water cannon at the sky, but then again, many big things have small beginnings.

Either way, both initiatives are interesting models to consider for future MBAs or MPPs interested in creating change in their home country.