Applying to business school isn’t an easy process, and neither is uprooting your life to move to a new city once you’ve been accepted. Navigating this major life change can feel especially challenging for international students – who can experience a few extra hurdles on their way to matriculation. So what do international students need to know as they consider applying to HBS and making this transition? We checked in with Esme O’Neill-Dean (from New Zealand, MBA 2016) and Ibraheem Fahal (from Saudi Arabia, MBA 2015) to see what advice they had for our international applicants. Here’s what they thought you should know.

1.       Sorting out a visa isn’t as tough as you might think

Ibraheem: Getting a student visa is not complicated anymore. Most U.S. embassies publish the procedure for getting a visa and provide assistance for people who have more questions. After getting admitted into the MBA program, HBS was prompt in mailing me the I-20. The Harvard International Office and HBS Admissions provided a webinar on the visa application process. Applicants can always reach out to the school staff or students if they have any questions.

Esme: Visa-related issues can feel like a headache, but HBS’s Prematriculation Checklist laid out exactly what I needed to do so it was actually a pretty stress-free process in the end.  Whenever I did have a specific question, I just reached out to the HBS contact at the Harvard International Office. As long as you start early and follow the instructions, you should be fine.

2.       Learning about HBS can help you figure out if it’s a good fit for you

Ibraheem: I was not able to visit the campus so I relied heavily on the school’s website, webinars and current students from mine and neighboring countries. The HBS website is full of rich information and resources. The site also lists the events (such as an information session in Istanbul or a webinar) designed for prospective applicants to learn more about the MBA program.

Esme: I listened in to the admissions webinar for my home region (Australia/New Zealand) to get an idea of how people like me were experiencing life at HBS. Once I was accepted I also joined the various Admit groups on Facebook and LinkedIn etc. and was able to connect with others from home. I was also lucky enough to be able to visit the HBS campus and that was excellent – it’s hard to replicate the “real life” experience of sitting in a classroom and hearing the case unfold.  

3.       Financial aid doesn’t have to be frightening

Esme: HBS’s Prematriculation Checklist is great – it lays out exactly what you need to do and by when. I had a sponsorship offer from my employer but I still went through the Financial Aid process to see what all my financing options would be.  Again, if you start early enough and follow the instructions, you should be fine.

4.       Go ahead and reach out to our current students

Ibraheem: From the time I applied to the moment I finished the program a few weeks ago, I got to witness the magnitude and the strength of the HBS network. Staff, students, and alumni will go out of their way to provide assistance when needed. You just have to ask. When I decided to apply, I had questions about the school and the MBA program and wanted to get the perspective of current students. I had friends who studied in different schools in Boston at the time. I asked some of them to connect me with students they knew at HBS and they did. It also might be useful to reach out to leaders of student clubs and organizations at the school. HBS publishes on its website the names and the contact information of the leaders of the 70+ student clubs at the school.

5.       HBS is an inherently international place

Esme: I wondered if HBS would be international enough for what I was after, but I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised since arriving here. There are TONS of international students in my section and throughout the whole first year class. I love getting to see my new ANZ friends as well as meeting the other international students and, of course, spending time with the Americans. It’s a lot more international than I expected and I’ve loved that element of the experience.

6.       Your family and partners will be welcome

Ibraheem: After moving to Boston, making friends was not hard. There is a large number of students who come to school with their partners and children. Many students with partners or families find the Harvard University apartments located around the campus to be very convenient.

Esme: I didn’t come to HBS with a partner or family but even I have been impressed by the amount of partner support there is on campus – the partners are definitely a part of section life and we get to know many of them as well as we do our actual classmates. The partners all know one another as well and their kids– it’s a really familial atmosphere. There’s also an active Crimson Parents and Partners Club on campus.

7.       You’ll still be connected to your home region at HBS

Ibraheem: I have been very involved with student clubs and activities during my time here. I was an active member of the MENA Club and was involved with the planning of the Harvard Arab Weekend Conference. It was an excellent opportunity to get engaged in student activities and to meet people from the Middle East region and from Saudi Arabia.

Esme: There are about 15 other students from my home region across both the first and second years. We’re all part of the ANZ Club and get together for dinners and trips away. It’s so nice having people from home to spend time with – it feels really easy and relaxing. I also love interacting with the other international students – there are many different presentations, events, and treks to get to know one another.