The majority of business schools are welcoming back prospective candidates to visit campus in-person after more than two years of virtual events.
This is great news for applicants, as nothing can give you a better sense of the vibe and culture of a program than a visit to its campus. Although not mandatory, taking the time and effort to visit campus is strongly encouraged if you have the means.
Know that visiting campus is not a “tick the box” exercise but rather part of your overall effort to engage deeply with and learn about the school. While the most competitive schools caution that a campus visit is not formally taken into account by the adcom (Wharton even states this on its website), making the effort is a signal of your genuine interest. It’s a very helpful part of portraying yourself as a highly motivated and well-informed candidate, and you never know when a chance encounter can positively benefit your application. And, at schools beyond the most competitive, visiting a campus can carry weight, and you should treat these visits more like an interview.
My Fortuna colleague Patricia Keegan, former Associate Dean at Chicago Booth and admissions reviewer for Stanford GSB, puts it this way: “If two candidates are relatively equal in terms of credentials and one has made the effort to visit and attend events, that would definitely work in his/her favor.”
The best reason to visit a campus is for your own research – to not only see if you like the school, the environment, and the student culture, but to sense if the program and community are the right fit for you. As a coach at Fortuna Admissions for the past 10 years, I’ve heard many clients reflect that as soon as they arrived on a certain campus, they knew it was their dream school and couldn’t see themselves anywhere else. For others, it was a make-it-or-break-it situation, and they learned the school was NOT for them at all!
Moreover, learning more about a program and its particular vernacular can significantly benefit and enhance your application essays by conveying a deeper layer of understanding. Most schools provide a formal tour; try to visit when you can sit in on an information session or even attend a class (which I encourage you to do depending on a school’s covid protocols – it’s worth investigating). Sometimes a formal school visit won’t fit with your calendar, so you can reach out to Admissions to see if you can just walk around and meet students. (Try and do the former though as it will be worth your while).
As an MBA admissions coach, I’m often asked about what to do or bring (or wear!) to make the most of an MBA campus visit. So besides visiting for your own research and experience, here are a few tips to help you prepare:
Tips to Make The Most of Your MBA Campus Visit
1. Know thy school.
Make sure you do your research before arriving so you appear knowledgeable and passionate about the program. You may find it useful to watch some admissions presentations and webinars on each school’s website and come prepared with questions to ask students and/or admissions. My Fortuna colleague Bill Kooser, former Associate Dean at Booth, says, “Make sure you understand Booth’s culture and educational philosophy (the Chicago approach) and that it actually appeals to you. If you sit in on class, you’ll get a sense of what this means.” Every school is unique and it’s important for you to understand as much about the culture as the academics and program offerings.
2. Mind your manners.
How you present yourself is very important while visiting a school. It’s essential to make a good impression by being respectful, polite, and professional with everyone you meet – from the administrative staff, the front desk, admissions, professors, and students. You also want to maintain a positive tone and attitude. For example, if you are meeting with a student, try to avoid making any comments that could backfire, such as telling them their program is your backup school or that another MBA program is your top choice. It’s possible that any conversation or impression you make (even with a student), whether positive or negative, could wind up in the admissions office as many MBA communities are tight-knit. I met a lot of candidates all over the world while I was working at INSEAD, and if someone made a really good (or bad) impression on me, I always sent a note to my colleagues who would later evaluate that candidate’s application.
3. Connect with people on campus.
This is your chance to really hear what goes on behind the scenes as a student. The more students you meet, the more likely you are to hear their candid and unfiltered comments about the benefits and challenges they encounter. Try and arrange meetups with students in advance, perhaps over coffee (and offer to treat them!). Many school websites list the names and even contact information of student club presidents or school ambassadors, so you can reach out to them in advance and let them know you are coming to campus and would appreciate speaking with them. Similarly, if you’ve already had some dialogue with someone in admissions, see if they are willing to meet so you can ask questions, and they can put a face to a name when your application comes in.
If you aren’t able to set something up in advance, don’t be shy. Go up and introduce yourself to a few students on campus to see if they have a few minutes to share their program experiences. If allowed, walk around community areas such as student lounges and study areas or other popular hangouts on or near campus to see if you can strike up a friendly conversation. For example, if visiting Wharton (specifically on a Thursday) go for a drink at PUB. Fortuna’s Brittany Maschal, who used to work in Wharton Admissions, says, “I’m pretty sure there is no better way to get a glimpse of Wharton’s we’ve worked hard now let’s play side…!” Whereas at Booth, go hang out in the Winter Garden or Kovler Café or at the Spangler Center at Harvard Business School.
4. Time your visit.
Try and go when the school is ‘in session’ and there are classes available and students to meet. Often during the summertime or internship periods, or on holidays, campuses are quiet, so you may not get the most accurate sense of what it’s like ‘in session.’ At HBS, for example, the information sessions are hosted by admissions in the summer, and the campus tours are run by staff and students. Depending on when you visit, the vibe could be extremely different.
5. Be a detective.
You’ve learned about the school from its website or by speaking with students/alumni, but now is your chance to really investigate what it’s like ‘behind the scenes’. What’s the feel like on campus? How are students interacting with each other? If you sit in on a class, is it very participative and engaging? Or is the teacher doing most of the talking? Are professors interacting with students outside the classroom? Keep your eyes open for announcements on screens or posters about what activities are taking place to see what’s happening at the school. Observing can provide insight into what’s happening at the school and give you a sense of what you can expect as a student.
Fortuna’s Bill Kooser, formerly of Booth, also suggests, “if you have a chance while you are in Chicago, visit the downtown campus [the Gleacher Center]. There is a good chance you will take a class or two here and you are also likely to live not too far away.” (Most Booth students now live downtown.) If visiting Columbia Business School (and equally important for NYU Stern), you’ll gain a sense of how the MBA program engages with the business landscape of Manhattan. Fortuna’s Karen Hamou, a CBS alum and Deloitte recruiting lead to CBS, says, “I do think that the school wants to see in essay 2 (their “Why CBS” essay) that not only are you eager to attend CBS, but that you are eager to be in NYC. So, make sure that while you visit CBS, you also get a sense of NYC and will be able to speak to what you will do in NYC to supplement your classroom experience.”
What to Bring, Not To Bring, and What To Wear
What to bring: Your MBA elevator pitch
Bring along a few business cards to exchange with people you meet and request their contact information in return. Beyond sending a brief thank you for the interaction (always a nice touch), you can also reach out with any future questions. Also, MBA applications often include a question related to whom you’ve interacted with at the school (schools including NYU Stern, CBS, and Berkeley Haas ask this question). For example, the CBS application cites: “Please specify admissions staff or alumni with whom you have spoken or what event you have attended,” and “If you know any current students at CBS, you can name them.”
In addition to bringing business cards, come ready to convey a strong self-introduction. As Fortuna’s Sharon Joyce underscores in her article on crafting a powerful MBA elevator pitch, “Positioning yourself to be memorable, likable and interesting to the contacts you hope to create requires an effective self-introduction. Think of this as your MBA elevator pitch.” Think about your pitch before arriving and have it ready to go whether you have some scheduled meetings or not. Know why you want an MBA and know why you want to go to X school, but don’t be overly rehearsed nor treat your visit like an interview, as this may undermine your authenticity. Authenticity matters at all M7 MBA programs, so balance thoughtful preparation with showing up as yourself.
What not to bring: Gifts
Many of my Fortuna Admissions colleagues have worked in admissions for the M7 schools and a few have suggested to not come bearing gifts. In some cultures, this is the norm (and lovely), but it can send the wrong message in a US business school context. That said, if you are meeting up with any students or alumni for coffee or the like, it’s always a nice gesture to pick up the tab.
What to wear.
As much as you want to be yourself and present yourself naturally on campus, you should still dress in a way that won’t rise any eyebrows. No need for a business suit, but be presentable and dress smart casual, as you never know who you may meet on campus (e.g. the admissions director or the dean). As Fortuna’s Karen Hamou says, “Trust that your ability to be authentic needn’t hinge on making a fashion statement – let’s save that for day one of welcome week.”
Finally, if you can’t make it in person, schools still offer virtual visits (for more info on how to prepare for virtual visits check out this article by Fortuna’s Julie Ferguson).
In sum, campus visits give you the opportunity to see if you like the school and if it’s a great cultural fit for you and your goals. Just because it’s a top school with excellent rankings, it still may not be your ideal place to spend two (or one) years, which is why school visits can be essential in your decision-making process. Gut feel is important. Remain open-minded about different programs because you might be pleasantly surprised how a campus visit will inform your MBA decision-making.
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