Aaron D. Anderson, Ph.D., Acting Executive Director, Graduate Business Programs, San Francisco State University
We at San Francisco State University’s Graduate Business Programs are very happy to have an opportunity to answer the prompt posed by the GMAC: “can you provide some tips on things to do or not do at information sessions and MBA fairs.” The decision to attend an Master in Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program is an important one, and should be given serious consideration. Before you attend any fairs or information sessions, you have to do some homework.
Your first challenge is to narrow your choices by conducting a thorough web-based comparative analysis of the important variables such as accreditation, quality of the faculty, program format, location, value delivered, availability of emphasis areas, time to completion, and the like. After the analysis, you should be able to narrow the field to about 10 schools. Your next move is to attend an MBA fair targeting those universities specifically so you are not simply meandering about the facility hoping to find a good school. The overall aim of the fair is to narrow your search to about 4 to 6 top choices. Then, you should plan to attend each school’s open house, preferably on the campus that houses the program. After you attend the on-site, you should narrow the field to about 2 to 4 programs, center your efforts, and apply. The following are our tips for how to get the most out of each event:
Tips for MBA Fairs:
1) MBA Fairs are interesting because you get broad exposure and connect with representatives from the various schools. Do your homework prior to attending and identify two or three questions for the schools you are targeting. These should be questions you can’t find answers to on a school’s web location. We always enjoy answering questions that are unusual or different and it shows us that you have already thought through why you might like to apply to our program.
2) Be sure to walk away with the representative’s contact information because you will want to be able to establish a follow up conversation. Find out when the information sessions/open houses are so that you can visit the campus and meet current students in their element. Think of the representative as your front door to the University, and your best advocate for getting into the program. The job of our Director of Recruitment is to identify the best candidates, and identify any limitations that may be inherent in your application to help chart your way forward to become qualified.
3) At times we are able to have alumni and current students attend the fairs with us, which we always love to do because students and people who have already been through our programs know intimately what it takes to succeed. You should plan to ask some questions from alumni or students if they are available. If there are no students available at the time, we can speak generally about the student experience and will sometimes connect prospective students with current students or alumni, particularly if there are common areas of interest.
4) Think of fair attendance as a part of the discovery process as you begin to build out your professional network. As you do your diligence and narrow your choices, ask yourself the following question: Do the people (especially students and alumni) that I meet exemplify the kinds of people that would be an asset to know and improve my ability to network and build professional relationships?
Tips for Open Houses:
1) Listen to the presentation with an ear trained toward identifying the right fit for you. Most people will earn only one MBA/MSA in their lifetime. You may as well attend the program that you feel works best for you. Given the wide array of very good accredited programs, after you’ve narrowed your criteria on such things as quality, value delivered, and the like, you should go for fit.
2) Much like you hope to hear from students and alumni at the fairs, you should be exposed to some of them at the various information sessions. Listen to their stories to understand whether or not the program would also be right for you. Be sure to ask them the most challenging questions you can think of as all questions should be fair game.
3) Feel free to ask specific question on what to include in the personal statement and résumé. Every Business school requires applicants to prepare a personal statement, some personal statement might be related to a particular topic or it can be open-ended. In either case, we encourage applicants to focus their writing on reasons to why you are interested in applying and what your intentions are and how do you think the B-school can help you achieve your life goals. Résumés may have more than a page, and page length is asked frequently during open houses. Bottom line; if you feel the information you are listing is relevant and will help improve your chances, feel free to list it.
4) Many times questions about financing and graduate assistantships arise during the open house. Feel free to ask specific questions as to what type of financial aid options are available and what are the percentages of students receiving aid (loans, grants, scholarships, etc..). No matter the answer, we encourage applicants to ask their employer for details about possible employee tuition reimbursement plans that may be available only to them and other employees.
5) Take a tour of the facility. Location counts. During an MBA you will be working in groups, studying, and putting in a great deal of time and energy earning your diploma with your fellow students. Does the facility have room for student group meetings? Does it feel like a space you wouldn’t mind spending time in for both academic and social purposes? How close in proximity is the campus to high quality potential employers?
6) Look around you. The other people attending your session could very well be your classmates. Get to know them. Are the attendees diverse and representative of the kinds of people you would like to know and support throughout the life of the program and beyond? The beginning of your networking opportunity starts with the first point of contact with a particular school. The information session or open house is it. While networking doesn’t happen without considerable effort on your part, it is important that you feel comfortable surrounded by your fellow attendees, who may be in the same classroom. Talk with them as well.
There are obviously many more reasons to attend fairs and information sessions. Depending on where you are in your decision making process, these types of events may serve different purposes. In all, like all of our colleagues from other Universities, we are always happy to discuss our programs either in person, on the phone, or over the various communication channels.
The bottom line is that we are here to help you make a solid choice by examining as many factors as you can augur into the decision. Ultimately, being admitted is only half the equation. Once admitted, the ball is in your court and the work you have done researching the various programs will pay off as you decide what program is the right one for you. Best of luck as you make your selection.