This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
While everyone agrees the network you build during business school is one of the top benefits of earning an MBA degree, the best time to start networking is long before you apply.
Keep in mind that your ideal network should include a mix of mentors, colleagues and people who can connect you to an array of professional opportunities. If you’ve laid the groundwork and have already cultivated meaningful relationships with current students and alumni, these connections can grease the wheels for your successful MBA application.
First, get in contact with current students and alumni in your MBA network and enlist their help in researching programs. Nothing compares with hearing firsthand accounts that offer a realistic view of the business school experience that go beyond the brand messages of school websites and admissions events. Have conversations about why they decided to go to business school, why they chose the program they did, what were the highlights or surprises of their experience, and what they wish they had known when starting this process.
Sometimes, these conversations will prove enlightening by steering you in a different direction from your initial top-choice school. Talking to as many students and alumni as you can will not only help you narrow down your choices of where to apply, but will provide insight you can parlay into more convincing MBA essays and use to improve your admissions interviews, especially if conducted with second-year students or alums.
When you complete your essays, it can be very helpful to have a student or alumnus give them a thorough review, as these individuals have an intimate understanding of the application process and probably answered the same questions themselves just a few years ago. Make sure they are not just reassuring you that all is well, but are actually giving you some quality feedback.
Do be aware of the danger of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Two or three people doing the reviewing is usually the right amount.
Some schools welcome informal recommendations from students. If you are friends with a student or alumnus from one of your target schools, by all means let them put in a good word for you. Just don’t overdo it.
This type of endorsement works best if it is expressed directly to someone in admissions in a very casual way, where it seems like you had no hand in it. However, if the person can truly comment on your abilities, it’s perfectly appropriate – and beneficial – to ask an alumnus from your desired school to write your required letter of recommendation.
Visiting the campus in person is one of the best ways to get a true feeling of what attending the program would be like. After going on the official tour, crash with a student friend for the weekend and really live the business school life. Going to the local pub can be just as helpful as sitting in on a class to get a flavor for the people and culture of the school, with the added benefit of giving you experiences that will help you better articulate your fit with the program in your essays and interviews.
Business schools will often say the MBA admissions process is more art than science, and the more inside information you can leverage from students and alumni, the better your chances of acceptance at the business school of your dreams.