Learn the Ins and Outs of MBA Fairs

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News–Strictly Business blog.

If you’re seriously considering pursuing an M.B.A. degree and want the convenience of meeting representatives from many top business schools in a single location, attending one of several M.B.A. fairs taking place this fall and winter is a great place to start.

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 attempt to impress the schools. In fact, it’s the other way around. I say let the schools impress you.

For women, the Forté Forum event series is currently under way on the East Coast and offers prospective students a glimpse of what it’s really like to be an M.B.A. student, as well as advice on the M.B.A. admissions process. The QS Top M.B.A. World Tour, known as the most prestigious M.B.A. fair in the world, hosts events across the globe from now through December.

In addition to the meet-and-greets with admissions officials, candidates can also attend free seminars covering myriad M.B.A. issues and participate in master classes, taught by leading professors, which simulate the b-school classroom experience right there at the fair. Another popular fair, The M.B.A. Tour, vets all participating programs to ensure that the school representatives are full-time staff members, enabling prospective students to have maximum interaction with the actual decision makers in the admissions process.

Applicants should approach an M.B.A. 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-M.B.A. goals, or any potential red flags such as a layoff or low GPA””in order to gauge how they might view your application package.

If alumni are present, use the opportunity to learn from those who have already gone through the b-school trenches by asking for feedback on course workload, extracurriculars, housing, campus facilities, network strength, and how (if?) they achieved that elusive work/life balance. School-hosted student blogs, such as the Tuck at Dartmouth blog and the Berkeley M.B.A. Students Blog, offer a treasure trove of information that should spark your enthusiasm and lead to more varied questions for admissions representatives.

While a campus visit is the ideal way to gauge a school’s culture and fit, that’s not always possible””especially prior to applying. You can and should take advantage of these events by chatting with representatives about aspects such as student life, the faculty’s teaching style, and expectation of students, the types of careers alumni pursue post-graduation, and so on. Given the current economic state, candidates should also find out what resources the school provides””e.g. alumni networks, corporate contacts””to assist during their job search.

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. If you’re planning to attend an MBA fair this fall, or you have already, leave a comment below with your best advice or tips for making the experience a successful one.

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