Visiting Target B-Schools

By: Jeremy Shinewald of mbaMission

We get many inquiries from MBA candidates who are curious about whether they should visit their target schools. Is doing so worth the time and cost? Will it impress the admissions committees? Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that a class visit has tremendous relevance beyond the formal admissions process—it is a chance for you to give the school a thorough "test drive." Imagine you were buying a $250,000-$500,000 home. Wouldn't you want to visit it before you bought it? Maybe you would turn on the taps, open and shut the doors and windows and walk around the yard. Well, your business school education—when you take into account tuition, living expenses and the opportunity costs of leaving your job—will likely cost you somewhere in that dollar range. So, don't you think you should find out firsthand whether the place that will be your home for the next two years is right for you?

We at mbaMission always encourage MBA candidates to visit their target schools and personally experience the environment, pedagogy, quality of students and professors and much more. Visiting can make a positive impression on the admissions committee, gives you an opportunity to personalize your applications (your essays and interviews in particular—depending on when you visit) and may even help you decide which school to ultimately attend.

However, we do not think that you need to visit at all costs. If your funds or time are limited, you should not deplete your resources by traveling to the various campuses. Other ways of getting to know your preferred programs are certainly available (e.g., Web sites, mbaMission Insider's Guides, podcasts, alumni conversations, outreach events). However, if you do have the time and money, we strongly recommend that you visit your target schools and gain a priori experience—a brief trip could pay a lifetime of dividends.

Behave Yourself

As you visit campuses for interviews or just to experience the atmosphere of the programs, that you should be on your best behavior goes without saying. Although the receptionist in the admissions office is not a "spy" and your tour guide is not there to inform the admissions committee of your every act and word, both will probably feel that they should report any bad behavior to the admissions committee. We spoke with one former receptionist (now an admissions committee member) at a top-ten school, who said that when she encountered rudeness from a candidate, she would make note of it and inform the admissions director, who would then strike the candidate's name from the school's list. Admittedly, most candidates are on their best behavior during school visits, but we nevertheless offer this important reminder.

Go Beyond the Rankings

One way to get beyond business school rankings is to speak with students. Even if you do not have direct access to students at your target programs, contacting them in a targeted way, via club Web sites, is generally easy. You should not feel "pushy," because most students take pride in their school and are open to speaking with candidates. They are a de facto part of the school's marketing arm. So, if you are interested in a certain school's marketing program, for example, you can reach out to the individual (or individuals) leading the marketing club to learn more about the program. If you then find someone who is willing to speak with you, you should of course be respectful of that person's time and be well prepared for your conversation with him/her. Assuming that you are conscientious, you will have the opportunity to learn about the school's academic environment as well as the atmosphere on campus. Networking now should enable you to narrow your search and more effectively focus your limited "free" time over the next few months.