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4 Questions About School Success for B-School Alumni

Ten or twenty years ago, they were just like you. They studied feverishly for their GMAT, hoping to eke out another ten points. They combed through their essays, plotting out how every possible word choice could be interpreted. They cozied up to past bosses for recommendations and dropped in on campus to get a “feel” for the place. Chances are, like you, they hunted down alumni who could give them an inside take on what schools want and what they should expect.

Now, it’s time for alumni to pay it forward. They too had people give them a hand on their way to business school. As a result, they knew where to devote their time and energy. And they understood how to act and what was expected. For some, this advice led them to choose other schools. For others, it gave them a head start when they arrived on campus.

Experts rank business schools using a wealth of criteria. GMATs and GPAs reveal the intellectual heft of your classmates. And placement rates, starting salaries, and recruiter scores signify what the market really thinks of a prospective school’s graduates. But the biggest gap in the rankings involves the alumni network Make no mistake: alumni cast a shadow over every program. They are the bosses, investors, mentors, and benefactors who can truly differentiate a school. And their approval can make a difference in landing a job – or even getting into business school.

But what do you ask an alum when you finally get a meeting? Chances are, you’ll want to know if you’ll fit in and whether it was worth it. But taking such a direct approach probably won’t give you any true insights. To gain those, you’ll need to ask about specific parts of the business school experience. In a recent U.S. News & World Report column, Delece Smith-Barrow, an education reporter, came up with four questions that can help you pinpoint if a school is right for you. These questions include the following:

  • “What classes did you find the most helpful?”These days, students are flocking to data analytics courses. Question is, will this knowledge help them as much as a financial reporting elective? Not to mention, some professors have a special talent for making content relevant, thought-provoking, and inspiring. Alumni can guide you to those courses that will have the biggest payoff. “Alums have a great perspective on favorite professors who they had a great experience with,” says Libby Magliolo, a 2013 SMU Cox grad who works for PwC. “But they also can point you in the right direction as far as what course work best translates to future job opportunities.”
  • “How did you balance your time? According to Magliolo, first years can expect to be buried in courses, projects, extracurriculars and recruiting events. How do you separate the critical from the valuable? Talk to an alum, she tells S. News. “Getting a little bit of perspective on that is really helpful, and I think students are a little overwhelmed their first semester when they’re seeing everything that’s competing for their time.”
  • “What were some of the challenges of the program?” Not all MBA programs are alike. Some rely heavily on cases. Others carry a more quantitative bent across the curriculum. And all are moving increasingly towards an experiential model. Regardless, it pays to understand the expectations and tradeoffs involved at particular schools. And there’s no better resource here than alums, who’ve already gone through it. 
  • “How much are you in touch with your alumni network?” How can you tell if an MBA program delivers the goods? Their alumni stay engaged with the school long after graduation. In doing so, they can put students in touch with both their personal and classmates’ networks. Even more, in schools with high alumni engagement, there is a greater likelihood that applicants will stay connected with their own classmates once they return to work. “A lot of career opportunities open up by just word-of-mouth,”​ says Michael Hardin, dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce ​at the University of Alabama in an interview with U.S. News. “Staying in contact with your team members and having members from across the nation that are working in various industries gives you the ability to know what’s going on and helps you in your career.”

So go ahead and reach out to alumni. They are truly a school’s best ambassadors. And they’ll be flattered to hear from you…just as you will when you’re in their shoes someday.


Source: U.S. News & World Report

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