As many applicants are finding out at this time of year, conducting thorough research on MBA programs is an essential step in formulating a list of target schools and crafting convincing essays. Surfing the web and speaking with friends and mentors are great starting points in identifying programs of interest. However, to really get a feel for a school and determine whether it’s a good fit for one’s goals and personality, applicants need to dig deeper and gain some firsthand experience with the program and the people. Visiting the campus is a great way to gather this kind of information, and it can also be advantageous in the application process. Although most formal campus visit programs will not start until the fall (when classes are in session), we’d like to offer a few “head start” pointers for getting as much mileage as possible out of a trip to your target program.
1. Make yourself known.
Putting forth the effort to travel to a school is a signal of interest in the program that the adcom loves to see, however, you need to let them know that you’ve made the trip. It is possible to communicate this in your essays and interview, but the simplest route is often to register for a visit through the admissions office. Not only will most schools arrange for you to sit in on a class and have lunch with current students, but many will also make a note of your visit and include it in your file. Be sure to take advantage of all that the admissions office offers in this regard; even if you have friends on campus, it’s wise to speak to as many people as possible.
2. Think it through.
Before arriving on campus, you should think carefully about the sort of information you hope to take away from your visit. Whether your inquiries cover something as broad as the night life or as narrow as the syllabus of a particular course, your trip will be much more informative if you come prepared with a sense of the details you hope to glean from information sessions and conversations. Further, it’s a great idea to reach out to members of the community before you arrive; if there’s a club about which you are particularly curious, for instance, you could contact one of its leaders and arrange a conversation over coffee on the day of your visit.
Put your best foot forward.
Even though your conduct and interactions won’t be on the record in the way that they would be when interviewing on campus, it’s important that you be aware of the impression you’re making. Because spending time on campus is a great way to forge ongoing contacts with students who could become allies for you in the admissions process, you’ll naturally want to put your best foot forward.
3. What to bring.
There is really nothing to bring that is required, but it would be smart to bring a note pad and your business cards. As you visit the campus, think hard about how you feel and how you would fit into the community. Write some of these thoughts down; they may be very helpful in crafting your essays and preparing for your interviews. During your campus visit, you should have the opportunity to interact with students, faculty and administrators. You want to make it easy to keep in touch, so make sure your contact information is handy.
4. When to visit.
The ideal to time to visit campus is when classes are in session, and the school’s campus visit program is up and running. Many schools do not start these visit programs until a few weeks into their Fall semester; they want their new students to settle in first. This makes it a challenge for those applying during the first round to visit prior to completing their applications, but if you can visit during the early Fall, when the visit program is underway, and still complete your application in the first round, that is ideal. If you cannot do this, but still plan on applying during the first round, you might want to make a shorter visit during the summer, in order to get a sense of the school, which will help shape your narrative in the application essays. It would still make sense to return for a more comprehensive visit when the campus visit program is up and running. Some candidates will plan to combine their campus visit with an admissions interview, if an interview is offered. If you are adopting this approach, make sure to schedule the visit before the interview, so you can add some additional perspective to your interview.