Are Business School Information Sessions Enough?

Around the time this entry is posted, MBA applicant mbafome will be attending an information reception in her city for a business school she’s not seriously considering, “to make 100% sure I don’t want to attend the school.”  The following day, she’ll attend another one for her top-choice school, one she thinks “should be ranked in the top 5.”  The schools, though dissimilar, are fairly equivalently ranked.

It’s great that she’s taking the time to attend business school information sessions, as they will help filter out schools that clearly do not fit her.  Still, her opinions—concerned about one school’s “obsession” with its teaching philosophy, “super-excited” about the “underrated” other—seem pretty strong for someone who hasn’t visited those schools.  Mbafome is not going to get a feel for the personality of either school’s campus or classroom environment from mingling with a few people in a hotel conference room.  Would she have the same high opinion of her top-choice school after seeing its city?

Information sessions are helpful, but in my opinion, they do not provide enough information to make a final decision about applying to a school.  Whether a school is a marginal choice for you or a sure choice for you, you should visit it.  As any past client of mine knows, I always highly recommend campus visits.

The main reason is this.  You’re thinking about giving up two years of income plus around $50,000 a year in tuition alone to go to business school.  All told, with other expenses, that’s upwards of $250,000.  That’s quite an investment; in essence, you’re buying a house.  Now, if you were really buying a house, wouldn’t you first go visit the house and give it a good inspection and talk with the neighbors and just feel the personality of the place to make sure it was right for you?  Of course you would—you wouldn’t buy a house based solely on a talk with a real estate agent in his office.  So of course you should visit the schools you’re interested in attending; you don’t want to make a $250,000 mistake.

There are other reasons to visit before applying as well.  Except for the topmost schools, the admissions committee may think you are less serious about their school if you do not bother to visit, especially if you live fairly close to campus, and that will not help your application chances.  (Applications often ask if you visited the school, and the schools keep records of visitors.)  Also, visiting the campus and talking with students and sitting in on classes will give you information about the school and its personality that will help you decide whether to attend and will give you specific information that you can use in your essays when writing about why you want to go to the school.  A visit can only help you—and given the full cost of a business school education, the cost of a visit in time and money is nominal.

So, go beyond the guidebooks, go beyond talking with alumni, go beyond the information sessions, and visit the schools.  Every so often, I have a client whose last-choice school suddenly becomes their first-choice school because of a very successful campus visit: the attitude of the students turns out to be different than expected, the spouse and family falls in love with the area surrounding the campus, the class visit turns out to be unusually exciting and inspiring.  You never know what gems you’ll find.

R. Todd KingBy R. Todd King, an MIT MBA, who has worked with MBA applicants since 2001. Todd can help you make the most of your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.