Researching MBA Programs When You Can’t Visit
A critical component of a winning MBA application is demonstrating that you are the perfect “fit” for the school to which you are applying and that you are excited about that specific program. This is harder than it sounds! Making an effective case as to why a program is a fit requires a nuanced understanding of both yourself / your goals and the culture / offerings of your target program. Then you can convincingly connect the dots between the two for the adcom.
In a pre-COVID world, the best way to learn the intricacies of each school’s culture (and demonstrate your interest) was to plan an in-person visit. You would sit in a classroom, see how everyone engaged, and determine if it was a place where you’d like to spend two years. Visiting is not an option at the moment, but don’t take that as an excuse to regurgitate the boiler-plate attributes you’ve heard about your target programs in your essays and interviews.
A silver lining of the current situation is that it has forced schools to get creative with their virtual offerings. Use this to your advantage and learn all you can about each program in your consideration set from the comfort of your own home! Here are our suggestions for learning about MBA programs virtually:
1 . Talk to People. Next to sitting in on a class, talking to current students and recent alums is hands down the best way to get a sense for the culture of a school. Set up virtual “coffee chats” with at least two alums or current students from each school you are considering. Many programs will even facilitate one for you (see Kellogg’s offering here).
2. Ask the Right Questions. If you ask someone “why did you choose” a particular school, they will likely cite things you already know (rankings, location, jobs, etc.). We recommend that you ask specific questions about their experience instead. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
“What was orientation like?”
“What surprised you about your MBA experience? What didn’t you expect?”
“What was the most popular thing to do at your school? Event, class, club activity, etc.?”
“What stands out as the most impactful experience you had in b-school?”
“What did you wish was different about your experience?”
“What would you do differently if you went back?”
“How do you engage with your classmates now (if an alum)?”
“What advice do you have for an applicant to your school?”
“Based on your experience, how would you describe the culture of your program?”
3. Video Content > Written Content. The schools publish blogs that we find helpful for information and facts. But to get a sense for the culture of the school, the video content and webinars are way more helpful. In lieu of their usual slate of events, schools are offering virtual information sessions, campus tours, and small group chats with current students. Take advantage of as many as you can!
For your quick reference, here are links to a few schools’ offerings:
4. Read Forums & Guides (and take them with a grain of salt). There are a number of sites dedicated to providing MBA advice. The problem is that a lot of it is crowdsourced. While these resources can be useful starting points to help you parse out subtle differences between programs, remember that someone’s view of a school’s culture may be different than how it feels for you.
In a year where we expect the competition to continue to be high, it’s important to stay focused. It’s never too early to nail down your story, resume and “fit” with your target schools. If you need a good starting point for your school research, you can take the fit quiz on our site located here: School Selection Quiz. Remember, this is just a starting point.
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