Why Visiting A B-School Campus Is Like Online Dating

Columbia, on the other hand was as different of a profile as one could imagine- urban, sophisticated, very New York, finance-y, the dapper gentleman who would dazzle you and sweep you off your feet, but you weren’t sure if they’d call the next day (I had doubts about the community feel and closeness of student body after hearing that students lived spread out in New York City).

The thing about online dating is that you don’t know until the first date whether you’re still going to be interested, and the same could be said about the school visit. Sometimes it takes more than one meeting to know how strong the chemistry is, but that first date is very telling, especially if both parties are putting their best feet forward and going in with good intentions.  I figure if I’m going to make the effort to come all the way out to meet them, the very least they could do is reciprocate with an enthusiasm to meet me. This was true at Kellogg, but not so evident at Columbia.

Let me explain:

When I visited Columbia in October, I had plans to attend the informational session and a few class visits, perhaps chat with students and walk around.  My first impression stepping foot on campus was wow – the architecture was beautiful.  Immediately, I was attracted to the school at the visual level, because the aesthetics reminded me of my previous longest-lasting relationship – my undergrad Alma Mater, in all its Gothic beauty – you can say I have a type when it comes to campuses.

Wanting to keep an open mind, I first decided to attend the info session.  On the way there, I ran into a friend from undergrad and we were both very surprised to see each other.  After catching up briefly before the session, he offered to answer any question I had.  This was a good sign – mutual friends!   During the session though, I was continually waiting for all my reservations I had about the school to be assuaged (living in an expensive city, finding housing, a close-knit community of students, strengths in areas outside of finance) and the answers did little to convince me in the other direction.

It’s like when you ask your date if he still smokes (after marking “Trying to Quit” on their profile) and he mentions he wouldn’t in front of you.  Yes, you find some comfort in that answer, but the bottom line is, no matter how they word it, the fact still remains.
 At times, I also question the intention that many of these schools have for seeking so many applicants – that’s $250 per person they rope into applying!  Are they giving you false hope, and just want you to apply so that the application rates will rise and they will look more selective by comparison?  Are they sugar-coating their answers on the tough questions, and will they think of you differently for even asking?

While the whole presentation centered on how amazing NYC is, the wonderful resources Columbia had to offer and the connections with Wall Street, I didn’t feel myself fitting in with the most desirable characteristics of the school.  Even the class visits were above my head, as they had only offered second year courses.  The professors for those classes, according to the students I spoke with, left much to be desired.  At the end of the day, while eating sushi in Morningside Heights with a friend that attends Columbia Law School, I realized that, at the most basic level, CBS was wonderful, but just not for me.  One might even say, “You’re just not that into it.”  Is it then time to relegate them to the “friend zone?” (aka don’t apply this round, but keep on your radar?)

After a semi-disappointing visit to Columbia, I entered my Kellogg visit the following day with a bit of a sense of trepidation.  I wondered in my mind whether I had built up this ideal, perfection in a school that was unattainable, and decided I needed to decide what my non-negotiables were (campus aesthetics – meh; fit with interest and future plans – crucial) as well as to, please excuse the cliché, Just Go With It (terrible movie, by the way!)
Driving up to the campus, I started to feel butterflies building in my stomach.  It was the complete opposite of Columbia in that the buildings were modern, not as beautiful, but the sun was shining, the leaves were turning and students were walking and chatting.

The day-long date just kept getting better, and I could tell the school had put out its best foot for prospective students.  The class visit that I sat in on was phenomenal and blew my mind.  The teacher had won numerous awards and was funny, knowledgeable, engaging and quirky: everything I desired in a professor, and especially in a first year class.

They had assigned student ambassadors to show us around, so I really appreciated the personal gesture, but the highlight of the visit culminated in individual time with the admissions director.  Instead of doing a formal presentation, she gathered myself and 3 other prospective students in her office and just opened us up to ask questions to have a heart-to-heart dialogue.  It was without pretense, she spoke genuinely and honestly, and the entire experience put me at ease – everything that you’d want in a school visit AND a first date.

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