There is no better way to get to know an MBA program (and for an MBA program to get to know you) than a campus visit. But, before you book flights around the country, here are 6 things to know.
- Start the conversation right. The school visit is an opportunity for you to get to know the school, but it is also an opportunity for the school to get to know you. Think of it as a conversation. Show up having done your research. Understand what the school values and how you connect with those values. Go there only if you have an honest interest. You don’t get credit with the admissions committee just for showing up; a visit has to be meaningful to both you and them.
- Speak to the right people. Yes, everyone wants to speak to the Dean of Admissions; but that appointment is hard to get. Don’t be afraid to speak with some of the junior staffers, who can answer your –well-prepared – questions. Many schools have an admission contact for each region of the world or the US. Figure out who this is! This individual may actually remember you as a thoughtful and impressive visitor when it is time to review your candidacy.
- Talk to students. The only way to really get to know an MBA program beyond the marketing material is by talking to actual students and hearing about what they like and don’t like about the school. Are these things that you will like or not like? Good people to connect with are students who share your background or lead the clubs you would like to join. Track down their contact information (the admissions office can help) and see if you can schedule time to grab coffee and learn about their experiences and how you might fit in.
- Schedule. Timing your visit correctly can help you maximize your experience at the school. What days are classes actually in session? You don’t want to show up when students are taking exams or are away on break. Are there special events or weekends that might interest you? Perhaps you could visit when a student club is hosting a conference that aligns with your goals. Many MBA programs offer weekends geared to women, under-represented minorities, veterans, members of the LGBTQ communities, and others.
- Make it fun. A quick couple of hours on campus rarely provides you with the insight you need to see if you really want to live in a place for two years. Consider making your MBA program visits something of a vacation: stay overnight, enjoy the night-life in and around campus, tour around a bit. This is a great opportunity to visit Boston (HBS and MIT-Sloan), Chicago (Booth and Kellogg), San Francisco (Stanford and Berkeley-Haas) or North Carolina (UNC and Duke) and a whole bunch of other places you need an excuse to get to.
- “You had me at hello.” The reality is, it is not uncommon to visit a school and immediately know that it is or isn’t for you. Be open to it. I knew MIT was right for me from the first minute there. My colleague Susan knew it was going to be Duke as she sat outside the Thomas Center eating lunch with her first year hosts on a cloudless 75 degree October afternoon. Your instincts are frequently right about where you want to spend the next two years…follow them.