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Meeting Schools Off Campus

On-campus visits are always preferred. You should try to visit every school on your list, if it’s possible. It will add valuable context, depth, and nuance to your perceptions of a school, and it will help you meet these three fundamental goals:

  • Familiarizing yourself with the school
  • Assessing your level of interest
  • Demonstrating that interest to admissions representatives.
Demonstrating your interest is especially important, since school’s closely monitor their yield rate. But foregoing a visit doesn’t mean you won’t get into that school. A well-informed and well-prepared candidate can do just as well with an off-campus visit. Read on to learn what to expect from an off-campus visit and how to make the most of it. Topics covered include:
  1. What to Expect
  2. Leveraging Your Connections
  3. Types of Events
  4. Networking
  5. Gathering Information
   

What to Expect

There are some elements that are consistent across almost every off-campus event. First, there will be a mix of admissions representatives and local alumni in attendance. Off-campus admissions events are magnets for alumni seeking to reconnect with their alma mater.
 
Keep in mind that alumni, not just admissions representatives, are often tasked with reporting on noteworthy applicants they’ve met. It’s important to remain focused and professional while demonstrating your interest to them.
 
Second, an admissions representative will give an overview of the school and its offerings, as off-campus attendees are generally less familiar with the school than their on-campus counterparts. Since off-campus events doesn’t offer the opportunity to tour campus, talk with students, or shadow classes, school representatives at these events know there will be plenty of questions (and they’re happy to fill you in).
 
Lastly, there will be an alumni panel. Alumni are often called to serve on a panel at off-campus events, and many will stick around afterwards to answer one-on-one questions. The composition of a given panel will likely fall into one of two categories. First, the alumni may represent the most pervasive industry or focus in that area (e.g., finance in New York City or entrepreneurship in California). Second, the school may endeavor to showcase a wide variety of specialties in order to demonstrate the breadth of their program.
 
Aside from these common elements, off-campus events can vary widely from one to another. The type of graduate school and the format of the event are usually what differentiates them.

Leveraging Your Connections

If you are in contact with any current students at your target school, now is the time to leverage those connections. Current students can help you in three main ways:
  1. They know the specific attributes the school is looking for. It is not uncommon for admissions officers to target specific backgrounds, personalities, or perspectives they feel are missing from their current programs. Maintain authenticity and take advantage of this tip at the same time by highlighting any target attributes you truly have.
  2. They know which admissions reps and alums might attend and what they’re like. Just like you, admissions representatives and alums have their own unique quirks and preferences. Some can be overly talkative, a bit surly, or much too formal, while others can be surprisingly helpful and friendly. Knowing in advance which people are coming and whom you’d like to speak to will save you bundles of time.
  3. They can connect you with a desired admissions representative or alum. If your relationship is strong enough, consider asking for a direct introduction to a key admissions representative or alum. Connecting with admissions representatives can boost your candidacy (if you make a good impression), while loose ties to alumni will help you expand your network, whether or not you attend the school in the end.

Types of Events

There are two major types of off-campus events: information sessions and company tours. And there is a simple but powerful mantra for them: Don’t mess up. While this mantra holds true for all interactions with admissions representatives and alumni, it is particularly relevant early in the process. Once you’re further along, goals related to advancing your candidacy and conveying your full narrative will be more important. For now, focus on minimizing mistakes, answering your key questions, and building a pathway towards continued interaction with admissions officers.
 

Information Sessions

Information sessions are hosted by a single school and usually last one to three hours. They’re best for gathering in-depth information and building a connection with a specific school. They generally include:
  • Presentation about the school by admissions representatives
  • Alumni or current student panel
  • Q & A session
  • Networking time

 

Company Tours

These tours are hosted by independent companies (The MBA Tour and QS World MBA Tour are two examples) and usually last four to five hours. At any given tour event, you can expect to see 150 to 200 other applicants! Most attendees use these events to get their feet wet, gaining a broad base of knowledge about different degrees, schools, and programs. However, candidates who are further along in the process may use tours as a chance to meet with the admissions officers who will soon be reviewing their applications.

A tour generally includes:

 

  • Sessions on general admissions advice and financial aid
  • Sessions on specific application components (essays, interviews, etc.)
  • Deep dives with individual schools (these last 15 to 30 minutes)
  • “Speed dating” with admissions reps and alumni
  • School fair (this lasts about two hours)
The school fair is the crown-jewel of any tour event and can feature anywhere from 10 to 50 schools. Each school has a booth that is staffed with at least one admissions officer and typically a student or alum as well. Applicants will visit the tables of schools they’re interested in, introduce themselves, ask a few questions, and gather valuable information. Both Admit.me and AdmitAdvantage participate in these global tours and we love to see our users, so stop by! 

Networking

As you think about how to approach these events, it’s important to remember the bigger picture. Your goals are to get to know the school, see if you like the school, make sure the admissions reps know that you like the school, and avoid messing up.
 
Networking is an important part of attending these events, but it’s not the only goal. Focus on gathering lots of information and it’s likely that the networking will come along naturally. Talking with schools and asking questions will help you demonstrate interest and potentially open up new avenues for gathering information.


What to Do

This is what you should do by the time an information session or tour is over:
  1. Connect with at least one admissions representative or alum
  2. Obtain their business card(s)
  3. Build enough rapport that when you email them, they recognize your name
No matter what event you’re attending, this list should be achievable. However, it will be easier to get face time and easier to stand out at a smaller event, like an information session. If you don’t meet all three goals for a tour event, don’t worry about it too much.
 
If you do get some emails, reach out to your new contact(s) in a few days with specific thoughts from your conversation. From there, you can establish a regular cadence of communication. 
   
 

What Not to Do

 
In terms of our Don’t Mess Up mantra, here’s what to avoid while networking:
  • Telling your life story: This is not an opportunity to plead your case, attempt to explain your weaknesses, or advance your candidacy. No applicant was ever accepted on the spot at an off-campus event, so don’t attempt it.
  • Monopolizing their time: If you’re attending an information session, it’s likely that other candidates are as well. Avoid holding an admissions representative hostage while there are countless applicants waiting in line behind you. If there is a line, 2 to 3 minutes is a respectful amount of time to chat with an admissions representative. If there isn’t a line, something closer to 10 minutes may be reasonable. Use your best judgement.
  • Being controversial: There is a time and a place for discussing the relevant issues faced by your school and its students, but this isn’t it. Don’t mention scandals or attempt to deliberate hot button issues.
  • Committing a social faux pas: This idea covers a lot of ground. Remember earlier when we talked about not making mistakes as the main mantra for these events? This is what we mean. Avoid dressing inappropriately, swearing, and spilling food or drink. While these errors would be small in familiar company, these events are for putting your best face to your favorite schools. Don’t mess up.
You should network the same way at information sessions and tours, aside from one notable exception: Because the tours involve multiple schools, it’s important that you don’t feign loyalty to a single school.
 
Saying things like, “You are the only school I want to see here,” can be very risky when the school fair has an open layout. While no school expects to be your singular interest, dishonesty is not flattering. Typically, the events are open, so a school can see if you stop by another school’s table; be strategic and careful about how and when you do so.
   

Gathering Information

If you’re not too busy networking (or checking for mustard stains), it’s time to get what you came for. Perhaps the best and certainly the most straightforward way to gather information is to simply ask! You should come to every event with a few questions prepared in advance. These questions should be complex, and not something you can find on the school’s website. Make sure they’re questions that you genuinely want to know the answer to, so you don’t waste your time or theirs. If you can’t think of a question you want to ask about a school, you probably shouldn't be applying there.
 
Let’s revisit our three goals:
  1. Get to know the school (check)
  2. See if you like the school (check!)
  3. Show them you like the school (and check)
It looks like this plan of attack should meet all of our major goals for visiting! With the sound advice in this article, you can make those off-campus events work for you. 

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