Here’s a pro tip for those applying to business schools this fall: Do your research. Schools (like close friends, or romantic partners) want to feel like you’ve taken the time to get to know them before diving in headfirst! They want to know that you care about what makes them unique, and that you’ve done your homework. That you understand what makes them tick and what makes them unique.
Schools don’t just want to know that you’re highly qualified; they want to know that your qualifications align with their program. Don’t make admissions officers have to figure this out on their own. Research why you are a perfect fit for the school, and convey this in your application. To help you organize your research efforts, make a list or chart of specific opportunities you are seeking and how the school can support these goals.
Since some schools differ in how and when they want you to convey fit, make sure you research the school’s varying evaluation modes. For instance, while LBS wants you to convey fit in your essay, INSEAD doesn’t evaluate candidates’ motivations for attending the school until the interview stage. CBS wants to understand why you feel that being “at the very center of business” is going to be important for your MBA experience, and Wharton seeks to learn how you would be involved with their model of collaborative leadership. Yale’s new essay question, “Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made,” underlines the school’s determination to assess whether you are interested in solving big problems — a characteristic they are specifically looking to attract in applicants.
Your research into a school should be thoughtful and thorough. You need to gain an understanding and knowledge of the school that stretches beyond facts and figures. Learn about the school’s curriculum, its opportunities, its culture, and its people. Find out which core courses and elective courses are relevant to you, and why. Decide which clubs and societies you’d like to join, and what roles you’d like to play in them. Make sure you attend a school event, whether on or off campus, or virtual. Think about how the school is positioned to help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA goals.
Your research will of course require more work than a casual scan of the school’s website. Block out some time in your diary to regularly do some deeper dives. Follow schools on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and engage with the schools’ posts and statuses. Read the schools’ blogs regularly and subscribe to their e-newsletters. Connect with alumni on Reddit and LinkedIn, and through your local alumni chapter. Don’t shy away from setting up informational interviews with alumni, whether via in-person coffee dates or casual phone chats.
Make sure you reach out to alumni who are in your field. Alumni who share similar career interests as you will not only be more keen on helping and supporting you but will also be better equipped to give you valuable advice. Try connecting with alumni who have been out of school for several years as well as those who may be more recent graduates. They will be able to speak to how the school has helped them prepare for their specific field.
Connecting with faculty members will help you gain insider knowledge of the school and its program. You’ll be able to learn about specific courses and tracks, and about research and internship opportunities offered by the school. If you already have a specific research area in mind, don’t hesitate to discuss it with the faculty. You should do so with a specific set of questions in mind so that you can really engage the faculty members in thoughtful dialogue.
Campus visits are another terrific way to help you get better acquainted with a school. While colleges are not usually a hive of activity in the summer, you can still gain a sense of the general ethos and spirit of the community. Even once your applications are already “in the mail,” a visit can only help you. It will show interest and help you in future interactions. If you’re not applying until Round 2, a visit in the fall would be ideal. Please remember that everyone you interact with during these visits is a representative of the school; starting the minute you walk in the door, you will want to really show your interest and your focus.
If you’d like more guidance on how to conduct research into a school, or whether your profile is the right fit for business school, feel free to reach out to Fortuna Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation at any time. We look forward to hearing from you and are excited to support you in your admissions journey!
Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD. Fortuna is composed of former directors and associate directors of admissions at many of the world’s best business schools.