One question that comes up again and again is some variation of “What are the best ways to do in-depth research about schools and their programs?”
Most candidates will tackle this by visiting the school’s website and/or reading the program’s brochure. And they stop there.
An MBA is one of the biggest investments of time and money you’ll ever make. Not to mention the fact that the school you attend will be on your resume and part of your “personal brand” for the rest of your life. You need to know that you’re going to feel “at home” at this school, “click” with the students, and fit into the culture of the school and alumni network. You can’t determine that from a website or school brochure or book!
At MBA Prep School we believe that school selection is a two-way street. Not only are the schools trying to identify and attract the “best” students for their classes but you need to be trying to identify and select the “best” school given your individual career goals, learning needs, and other considerations. We believe that in-depth research on your target schools is critical.
Here are seven ways you can go beyond the norm to build your understanding of a particular school:
- Visit the School: You have to “be there” to sense it and take it all in. School visits will give you impressions and observations that will help you separate your application. You will be able to reference specific people you met or things you observed while visiting the school in your essays and interviews. Visit your “top choice” schools — it’s really important!
- Interview on Campus: Schools will say that it doesn’t really make a difference but interviewing on campus is a good opportunity to visit the school and better understand the school in ways that remote interviews via video or with local alumni cannot deliver, particularly for schools that offer interviews to all applicants.
- Sign-up for Email and Other Information Lists: Many schools Admissions Committees publish blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and participate in online web chat events. Sign-up for them! Read them! And keep notes for when you are making your final school selection decisions, writing your essays, and preparing for interviews.
- Read the Student Blogs: An increasing number of schools now have current students publish “unvarnished” impressions of their school experiences. While published through “official” school channels, some of these are surprisingly candid and will help give you further insights into the culture of the school and what the “day in a life” is really like.
- Meet with Alumni and Leaders of Alumni Clubs: Beyond the time you’ll spend attending school, the network you’ll be joining will be with you for the rest of your life. Contact the local chapter of the alumni association; try to meet with leaders. You’ll pick up invaluable impressions and insights that, again, should be worked into your school selection decisions, your essays, and your interviews.
- Complete “Informational” Interviews with Current Students and/or Recent Grads: The most “up-to-date” information on a particular school will come from current students and/or recent graduates. Many will be happy to give you the “inside scoop” on the school, the faculty, life on campus, and many other details that will help you choose the right school and then be able to coherently explain in your application why that school is the best school for you.
- Contact Student Clubs: Similarly, student clubs are a major facet of your business school experience, so look in particular for clubs that fit well with your career goals and get to know the leaders of those clubs. One of our students, for example, differentiated himself by talking knowledgeably about how the “Retail & Luxury Goods Club” at Columbia was the perfect fit for his career goals of becoming a luxury retailer executive.