Before you start researching MBA programs, it’s crucial that you understand your own criteria and preferences to take your business school selection past the level of rankings. Do you want to be in the city or in a rural setting? What type of coursework are you most interested in? Do you prefer a close-knit class or a large network? Do you need to be near a particular location for personal or professional reasons?
Start by figuring out what schools will be a good fit for your personal goals. And your first order of business is gaining a better understanding of the schools that might interest you, so that you can then filter those down to the select few you will actually apply to. Here are four areas to focus on as you begin researching potential MBA programs.
Read, read, and read some more—Pore over the websites of all schools that interest you to learn about the curriculum, teaching methods, professional clubs, extra-curricular offerings, and student life. Sign up to receive email announcements with admissions updates and information.
Many schools put out publications with their current research and events. These can help you see what is important on that campus right now. There may be specific research or programs that are of interest to you and could help further your career goals.
A great way to get a sense of the community at different business schools is to read their blogs posted by MBA students. While it’s helpful to read about school clubs on the official school website, you can get a real feel for the students involved by reading their own experiences. School-hosted student blogs offer a treasure trove of information that should spark your enthusiasm and lead to more varied questions for admissions representatives.
Attend MBA fairs—For many who are just embarking on their B-school journey, attending an MBA fair is a stellar way to meet admissions representatives from several programs. Applicants should approach an MBA fair with an open mind, ask good questions, and leave a positive impression on admissions officers. That means no flip-flops, please!
The most egregious fair faux pas is asking for information that can be found after a cursory glance at the program’s website, such as class size, deadlines, or average test scores. Instead, consider focusing on areas that are specific to your application—your work experience and post-MBA goals, or any potential red flags such as a layoff or low GPA—in order to gauge how they might view your application package.
Applicants tend to forget that schools cannot exist without great students, so these fairs are the schools’ opportunity to market themselves to applicants and get them interested enough so they apply to their schools. While candidates should act professional—since you never know whether you’ll forge an important connection at this type of event—applicants shouldn’t go overboard attempting to impress the schools. In fact, it’s the other way around. I say let the schools impress you.
Coffee chats with students and other informal information sessions hosted by adcomm provide even more opportunities to get a feel for the program before committing to visit in person. You’ll have the chance to ask questions and also meet current students and/or alums—a wonderful way to learn more about a school.
Watch, download, or tune in—Today’s current and future MBA students have grown up with social media, and many applicants use social media to connect with the schools. Visitors to school websites and social media channels want that insider glimpse of what life would be like for them as students.
From YouTube channels to podcasts, live webinars to lectures online, today’s business schools provide ample opportunities to showcase different aspects of their program to prospective students. For example, applicants benefit greatly from those live interactions during admissions webinars, where they can ask questions and get immediate answers to any questions or concerns they might have about the admissions process.
Plan your campus visit—With the average total cost of an MBA education at the most elite business schools creeping upwards of $300,000, it makes good sense to visit the campus to get to know a program beyond its ranking.
During a visit, you’ll observe the general routine of students, get a feel for in-class dynamics, and be better able to imagine yourself as a part of the community where you will spend the next two years.
Through the MBA admissions office, you can schedule a visit that typically includes an information session, the option of attending a class, and a chance to chat with a current student over coffee or a meal. As you sit in on a class, take note of the dynamic between the students and professor before and after class, as this can be an indicator of how close-knit and collaborative the community is.
In some cases, the admissions office may be able to put you in contact with a student with similar career goals, which provides an ideal way to learn more specifics about the program as it relates to your professional needs.
If you can stay for a few days, try to immerse yourself in the social scene and connect with students who are interested in the same activities you hope to become involved in. Often you’ll learn more about your fit with a particular school over these types of encounters than during an official admissions tour.
The more you know about the elements you believe to be an important part of the b-school experience, the better chance you have of whittling down your list of programs to the ones that more closely match your personal career goals.