You must understand how business schools differ when deciding whether to apply to specific MBA programs. What are their relative strengths and weaknesses? Getting a real sense of what makes a school unique is difficult: they all claim top faculties, great student bodies, and professional networks that will sizzle when you graduate.
How can you tell the differences between the various programs?
Follow these steps when doing your business school research:
- Study their employment profile. See where graduates find jobs. Which schools send the most Study the employment profile. See where graduates find jobs. Which schools send the most grads to the companies, industries, and locations that interest you most?
- Check out the latest class profile. MIT Sloan and Stanford GSB both provide an outstanding MBA education, but their class composition differs. Consider the elements and features of a given class and decide which environment appeals to you most. Do you want to be part of a large class or a small, close-knit class? Do you want an urban or rural setting? Do you want to be in a class that draws over 70% of its students from STEM fields? Or would you prefer to be in a class where 46% came from the social sciences and humanities?
- Assess the curriculum. Would the rigid first-year curriculum at Harvard Business School (HBS), in which everyone takes the same classes, chafe you? Or would you be lost with all the options at , which prides itself on its flexibility? Do you value the option of skipping prerequisites? Do you want a lot of teacher cooperation and integration of business functions, as Dartmouth Tuck and Yale SOM provide? If you prefer a mix of methodologies, check out Wharton. If you would like an emphasis on projects and hands-on learning, check out Michigan Ross. Do you want a strict case method? Take a closer look at HBS and UVA Darden.
- Consider clubs and extracurriculars. Many schools have imitated MIT Sloan’s business plan competition, but not every school has a social enterprise competition (HBS and Berkeley Haas do). These competitions might be particularly appealing if you are interested in social enterprise.
Take some time to notice the variety of active clubs in the programs you are considering. What are some of the unusual student groups at the different schools that would appeal to you? For example, almost every school has a Marketing Club, but only some, such as Columbia, NYU Stern, and London Business School, have a Retail and Luxury Goods Club.
- Investigate the faculty’s research. A school might have a professor or two who are magnets, pulling you to that program, perhaps because of their well-respected research in a niche that appeals to you. Are there independent study opportunities available (with these professors)? Do these profs teach MBA students? If so, which classes?
- Evaluate your “fit.” Consider your target school’s mission, values, and other criteria. You’ll need to prove that you can perform to its standards, show that you share its values and mission, and demonstrate that it can help you achieve your career goals.
To determine fit, visit the business schools you are considering, if possible. If a visit isn’t feasible, talk to students, read MBA student blogs, and follow the student newspapers. Grasping points of difference will enable you to make more intelligent application and acceptance decisions.
If it is possible to visit the business schools on your list, then you certainly should – not because of imaginary “brownie points” that the school may or may not award you, but because you will be a better informed applicant after you visit than before. You will know more about the school and its culture. You will know more about why it appeals to you, what about its style matches yours, and how it supports your goals.
You will also, most likely, prepare a better application for admission after you’ve learned more about the school.
How to Ensure a Valuable Business School Visit
Once you’ve made the decision to visit, we recommend that you follow this advice:
- Visit when class is in session.
You want to get a feel for what life on campus is like, and you won’t get much of an idea of student life if everyone’s on break. Likewise, if classes are done for the term and everyone is cramming for exams and taking tests, you won’t get the full day-to-day campus experience (though you will get to see what b-school students are like under pressure!).
Another good reason to go while class is in session is so that you can sit in on classes – definitely take advantage of this if your target program offers this option.
- Take the tour and attend the info sessions.
Again, your goal is to learn as much as possible about the program. Don’t brush off the official tours because you’d rather explore on your own; instead, take the tour, sit through the info sessions, and explore on your own.
- Talk to everyone!
Business school students and adcoms are generally more than happy to talk with prospective students, so don’t miss out on the valuable opportunity to chat with anyone and everyone about their b-school experience.
- Prepare your questions in advance.
You’ll have the most productive conversations if you go in with some direction. Obviously questions will differ depending on what’s important to you and where you’re visiting, but here are some basic questions:
– What is a typical day like for a first or second year student?
– How do professors view their teaching – as an integrated approach to business, as part of the interconnection of business functions (and if interconnected, how do they collaborate with other professors), or simply as a job? How do they balance teaching and research?
-How are interview slots assigned? Is there a bidding process? What is it?
- Review the school’s website before you go.
Asking questions is good; asking questions that are answered on the homepage of your target school’s website…not so good. Do your research ahead of time so that you can ask specific, unique questions that show you’ve done your homework as well as some good quality thinking.
- If you can’t visit a school, attend info sessions closer to home.
While an info session won’t simulate life on campus, you will still get to make an appearance before the adcom and speak with students/alumni/faculty – whoever is leading the event. You can also do some quality research by emailing current students and reading student blogs.
Visiting a school is highly recommended, and if you go, you should take advantage of all of the school’s people and resources so you can learn as much as possible about whether you’re the right fit for the program. If, however, you’re unable to visit, then you should still do all you can to learn firsthand about your target schools to determine how you’d fit in and optimize your applications to reflect that!
Visiting schools is only part of the planning and strategizing that you’ll need to do when applying to business school. Check out Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services for individual guidance through the entire application process. Visit schools. Create a winning application. Get ACCEPTED!
- 7 Steps to MBA Acceptance, watch the webinar
- Business School Selectivity Index, find out where you are a competitive applicant
- What Should You Do If You Can’t Visit B-Schools in Person?