This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Many would agree that visiting campus is the single best way to get a feel for the business schools you are considering. You can sit in on a class, meet current students and really envision yourself as a part of that community.
Often, the campus visit will fuel your excitement about the program, and other times, the in-person experience isn’t quite what you imagined and you’ll know right away that the culture just isn’t a good fit for you.
However, for many MBA hopefuls, particularly those targeting multiple programs and coming from abroad, a campus visit can be a real challenge during the application phase. Whether the problem is the prohibitive expense of air travel and lodging or the time off from work required, these candidates must turn to other sources to fill in the blanks as they decide on which programs to target.
A great starting point for any applicant is connecting with students and alumni at the schools you are considering. Top MBA programs host numerous events around the world each year, so plan on attending the event nearest you in order to meet admissions officers, alumni and current students, and to gain valuable application advice.
These individuals can offer the inside scoop on student life and what makes their school unique. Participating in online information sessions and virtual webinars is another valuable way for candidates to get a better sense of the school’s culture.
Business schools often have programs that connect applicants via email or Skype with current and former students of similar backgrounds and profiles, and this is a great introduction to the program that can help you narrow down which schools to focus on for your MBA. Even if there’s no such formal program in place, most admissions officers will happily put candidates in touch with an alum or current student if asked.
Hugo Varela conducted most of his school research from Madrid, Spain, and was able to visit only one U.S. school in person due to work and financial constraints. Despite that fact, Varela was accepted at MIT Sloan School of Management, Duke University Fuqua School of Business and Dartmouth University Tuck School of Business.
“I tried to talk to current students and attend events hosted by many schools in my city, before and after applying, in order to get to know as much as I could about every school,” says Varela. “This cannot make up for a campus visit, but is the best you can do from afar, and current students and alumni really have been key for me to decide where to apply and where to attend.”
“Reading student blogs and talking to alumni and current students were invaluable in helping me gauge the right schools to apply to,” agrees Vandana Sathpathy, an applicant based in India who received offers of admission to three elite MBA programs without visiting any of the campuses and heads to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University this fall.
She says she was especially impressed by current students who went out of their way to spend time answering questions patiently and enthusiastically, and really showed how passionate they were about their schools.
“There is a wealth of information available online if you are motivated enough to find it – and I was,” Sathpathy adds. In addition to scouring every inch of the school websites, she read the official school blogs and followed all of her target schools on every social media network possible – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and particularly YouTube.
By watching everything from guest lectures, Ted Talks events, orientation videos, talks given by professors at her target schools and even Bollywood Bash Night videos, she says, “I knew the pros and cons of each school by the time I applied, and the reasons I really wanted to go there.”
Positive engagement with the admissions committee via social media is another excellent strategy and could help you stand out in a competitive applicant pool. Schools that actively monitor their social media sites can often answer an applicant’s questions in mere hours, whereas an emailed query could take days to receive a reply. Prospective students should also subscribe to the feeds of student and admissions blogs to find out immediately about any news that could influence their interest in the program.
Online research can’t replace the value of the in-person experience, but candidates who simply cannot visit their selected schools before applying should take comfort in knowing that there are many ways to thoroughly get to know a program without a campus visit to guide them. Diligence and motivation are all you really need.