So you’ve booked your ticket, packed your toothbrush, and tomorrow you’ll take your first step onto the campus of your dream MBA program. How should you prepare and how do you make the most of your school visit?
We are huge advocates of visiting the business schools on your short list because it’s difficult if not impossible to ascertain how well you might fit with the school’s culture from afar. Unless you’re the kind of person who would buy a house sight unseen or a car without a test drive, we believe that you will appreciate the value of school visits as well.
Even so, it’s natural to be anxious about an upcoming MBA program campus visit; so here is a little straightforward advice intended to calm your nerves and get you in the right frame of mind.
You are the Buyer and Not the Seller!
The first thing to keep in mind is that at this juncture, you are the buyer and not the seller. In other words, your objective is to identity specific reasons why this MBA program is perfectly suited to someone with your career history and your career goals. You want to walk away from your visit with a better idea of the differentiating strengths of the program that are relevant to you. Take careful notes about the things that impress you while you’re on campus. Your notes will be very handy when you are writing your MBA essays and preparing for an admissions interview later.
Be Open Minded, Focus on the Business School’s Culture, Determine How Well You Fit
As we alluded to earlier, one of the most important goals of a school visit is to attain a clear idea about the school’s culture and how well you fit. The business school’s culture will have the greatest impact on the quality of your experience in the MBA program if accepted. You may have heard any number of things second-hand about the culture of certain MBA programs – “this school is competitive, that school is collaborative, etc.” You should look past stereotypes; open your mind and open your eyes.
Meet People One on One
When visiting campus, meet 1-on-1 with students and sit in on a class. While doing so, pay careful attention to how MBA students interact with one another and to the student-professor dynamic. Do you have a sense that students go out of their way to promote each other’s success or out of their way to promote their own? Is there a sense of inclusiveness? Do students seem engaged in class and eager to participate or are they checking their emails and more interested in their iPhones?
Build a “Personality Profile” of each Business School
Your investigation of business school culture can be both formal and informal. Pay careful attention to the personalities you encounter and the vibe you get from everyone you meet on the MBA campus. In a sense, you are trying to build a “personality profile” of the schools on your short list so you can decide which program’s personality is the best match with your own. Can you imagine spending two years there with the type of people that you meet during your visit? In fact, these people will be part of your life for much longer than two years.
Relax! Be Natural …
And a little advice on how to comport yourself during your MBA campus visit: Any connection you make with students or admissions officers needs to be organic – same career history, similar career goals, same hometown, etc. Be courteous to everyone you meet, relax, enjoy yourself, and everything should be fine. The worst mistake I’ve seen candidates make is to go into their visit with an agenda to “get noticed.”
The folks that get weeded during school visits are those who elbow their way to the front and try to “impress” admissions officers. It’s just not the time and place for that kind of interaction; then again there never is one.
Enjoy the School Visits!
Have fun on your school visit, talk to people, try to picture yourself in this environment, and be friendly with everyone you meet, including your fellow MBA candidates. You’ll complete your visit with a much better idea of whether this is a place you would want to call home for two years and whether or not these are the kinds of people you want to build lifelong relationships with.
And don’t forget your toothbrush!