Researching MBA Programs When You Can’t Visit

A big part of putting together a winning MBA application is demonstrating that you are the perfect “fit” for the school you are applying to, and that you are excited about that specific program and school. The schools’ websites only get you so far; they start to blur together as the top schools all offer cutting edge courses, acclaimed professors, legacies of recruiting power at sought after companies, and best in class experiential learning and networking. So, researching which schools are the best “fit” for you comes down to something much more subjective:  the school’s culture and your personality.  

This is the time of year when you should be doing this type of analysis:  researching schools, determining which schools you want to apply to, and creating your talking points for how each school is a great fit for you, and you for it. Historically, the best way to assess fit was simply to visit. Sit in a classroom, see how everyone engages, and determine if it’s a place where you’d like to spend two years. You can’t do that right now, but you can still learn about the schools – it may just take a little more effort and creativity.

Here are our suggestions for learning about the 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. You’re probably really skilled at Zoom right now, so I recommend setting up a few virtual “coffee chats” with at least two alums or current students from each school you are considering. 

2. Ask the Right Questions. If you ask someone “why did you choose” a particular school, they will likely cite all of the stuff you already know (rankings, location, jobs etc). So we recommend that you ask 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 being able to do their usual city tours, schools will being going virtual, so look for these events in the near term. They generally fill up fast when offered live, so we expect the same to be true virtually. 

4. Call Them.  If you don’t know current students or alums, call the schools and ask to be put in touch with a current student. All of the top schools offer something like this and it’s a great way for you to ask your questions and get to know the program. Make sure they take your name when you call the school and ask for this (they might keep track). 

5. Forums & Guides (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 (eg. forums). The school guides that many offer for free can be very useful as starting points and helping you parse out some subtle differences in programs. But remember that someone’s view of a schools’ culture and feel may be different than how it feels for you. So, use others’ opinions as a starting point and data collection, not as a way of classifying schools. 

In a year where we expect the competition to be high, it’s important to stay focused; and right now is the time to be nailing down your story, resume and of course “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.

We hope everyone is staying safe and hanging in there! Reach out if you have any questions.


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