You’ve spoken to students and alumni in your network. You’ve scoured each school’s website. You’ve conducted online outreach to learn more about the curriculum and extracurricular opportunities. What next? The next way for you to go beyond the rankings as you consider MBA programs is to go out and get the scoop on a face-to-face basis.
The schools you’re thinking about may be scattered all over the country, but it’s likely that their admissions representatives will be coming your way in the months preceding the application deadlines. Whether organized by a single school or part of a larger event such as a tour or career fair, information sessions provide an excellent opportunity to get the latest news and details about a program. You may also be able to connect personally with admissions representatives and, depending on the event, alumni or current students, which can give you a better sense of the school community. Registration at these sessions tends to be limited, so check early and often to see when the schools you have your eye on will be passing through your area.
Information sessions or virtual fairs are an especially good proxy when a school is too geographically distant for a visit to be feasible. That said, it’s always a good idea to make a trip to a school’s campus if you have the time and the means; this is particularly true for the programs that are emerging as your top choices. Most MBA programs welcome visitors to campus throughout the academic year, and arrange a full battery of events for prospective students. Applicants can typically tour the campus, attend a class, eat lunch with current students, and attend an admissions Q&A. If you’ve been in touch with student club leaders or faculty members, a trip to campus is also a great occasion to connect with them in person.
More than anything, a visit to campus is your chance to spend time on the ground and get a sense of the day-to-day life of students in a given program. Schools tend to showcase their best features and newest facilities in their marketing materials, whereas making the trip in person allows you to see what the average classroom looks like, where students congregate and spend their time, and how the business school is situated within the larger university. Observing students’ interactions with each other and with their instructors is also the best way to get a sense of the elusive ‘culture’ of a school. Are students on a first name basis with faculty members, or is the relationship more formal? Do students stick around to socialize after class, or go their separate ways? Paying attention to your personal comfort level during the time you spend on campus may be the best way to assess whether a school is truly right for you.
Beyond the campus itself, there are other quality of life issues to consider as you survey the area. You’ll be spending 1-2 years here, after all, and there will (hopefully) be more to life than classes and clubs. Where do students live, eat, and socialize? What is the cost of living? Will the transportation infrastructure meet your needs? Are you more eager to relocate to a bustling urban center, or a quiet college town? If you have a partner and/or children who will be moving with you, you’ll likely want to inquire about the program’s support for students’ families, and think about job prospects in the area, quality of schools, and public safety. As you consider all of the pieces that form the big picture of the student experience, you may realize that some schools make better sense than others with respect to your lifestyle preferences and personal situation.