You’re busy, we know…too busy, it seems, to visit business schools.
Job, GMAT, triathlon training, bringing clean water to 78 villages in Africa, climbing Everest on a surfboard while wearing a blindfold… your enviable activities list displays an ability to challenge yourself and pursue greatness in a way that you already know the admissions committee at Stanford GSB will eat up.
But hold on, how do you really know that? Have you met any members of the admissions committee at Stanford GSB? Have you met anyone at Stanford… students, professors, administration? Do you have any idea about the personality of the students, the ethos of the institution, the values of the administration? Do you know whether you match or fit the place and its culture… and if so, have you learned why and how?
Probably not, because somewhere between swimming the English Channel and raising $817.6 million for Optometrists Without Borders, you need to find time to actually visit the schools on your list in order to do three things:
- Establish personal connections
- Learn about the culture and whether you fit in
- Amass application fodder
Establish Personal Connections
Let’s start with establishing personal connections. We know you’re special. The admissions committee does not. They’ve never met you. But you can change that.
Visiting campus provides you an opportunity to meet members of the admissions committee or students who may serve in roles with the admissions committee… or at least know members of the admissions committee. (Knowing a guy is good, but knowing a guy who knows a guy isn’t bad either.)
Any personal conversations may lead to larger ones on the spot or later in email exchanges. Such interactions provide you the opportunity to create an impression. Think about how admissions committee members review applications: Late at night or early in the morning when everyone is cranky, tired, or groggy. They read your file and assess you based on a two-dimensional description of who you are on paper. If you invest time to visit, taking advantage of personal interactions, you will pop off the page and turn into a human: “I met her once, she is funny, charming, energetic, and insightful…”
To create these opportunities, stay in touch with people you meet during your visits and show your curiosity and enthusiasm by keeping the conversation going. Big warning here though: While we advise you stay in touch, we must also strongly warn you not to become a pest! Remember that geeky, annoying dude at the event in your city who asked question after question and monopolized the admissions director’s time? Don’t be that guy! Do not over contact. Do not contact for the sake of contacting. If the opportunity for natural follow-ups arise or the conversation organically continues, then continue it… otherwise do not. The key word here is natural.
Learn About the Culture and Whether You Fit In
Another key reason to visit business schools: To learn about the place! Understand the institutional culture. Get a feel for the class personality and explore whether you fit in. What are the students like? Are you comfortable with them? Will you enjoy poker night every Thursday or will it make you want to hide in a dark, locked room pretending no one’s home?
Business school admissions committees strive to build a class that gels. They seek to build a cohesive community that truly enjoys itself. I felt this at Wharton. During my two visits to the school, I immediately felt at home at the institution and among the students. I felt a “click.” I knew that I belonged and that I would fit perfectly.
My two years at the school confirmed these feelings. The admissions committee had truly assembled a class of people that got along, enjoyed each other’s company, and collaborated well. The class felt like it shared a common personality.
While visiting friends who attended different business schools, I noticed not only how their schools’ personalities contrasted with mine, but also how their communities melted together similarly to mine. Only a visit will provide you with the honest assessment of whether you fit with a school and teach you how to present yourself if you do.
Amass Application Fodder
A visit will also provide you with the deep level of research and learning needed to convince the admissions committee that you belong at their institution, allowing you to position yourself correctly.
In fact, business school admissions committees check applicant names against their official visit registration forms and sign-ins to ensure that you have actually committed this level of research (another important reason to visit).
Prior to and during your visit, do your homework on the schools. Contact students in organizations that you want to join. Communicate with professors under whom you would like to study. Probe deeply about specifics of the programs, their comparative advantages, and how the students changed as people because of the programs.
Make note of these details and mention them in essays or short answer questions, especially any noteworthy personal interactions that exemplify the school’s culture and your attraction to it. These details will feed essays that ask about why you want to attend a particular school. Remember, little personal stories that can, and should, be inserted in your essays will only come from real personal encounters.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t just be a sponge! Consider how you will contribute to the school and focus your essays accordingly. Resist the urge to discuss only how much you will receive from the process of getting an MBA. Rather than coming off as a leech, focus on how your unique talents and experience will add to the diversity of the program. As impact comprises a major theme of any application (impact on business, leadership, community), you must provide a glimpse of how you will impact the school.