Generally speaking, online MBA events have replaced in-person admissions events and campus visits. Before the global pandemic, my advice to applicants was to visit campus in order to assess the personality of the school, get to know the community, and see if the program is a right “fit” for them. Now that the bulk of interactions are virtual, your approach to gauging fit must adapt to the medium.
Since early spring, schools have scrambled to create virtual experiences that will cultivate meaningful interaction with prospective candidates. These virtual sessions are your opportunity to really try to assess and understand the unique aspects of the school that fit with your career vision and future goals. Understanding fit will likewise help you, through essays and interviews, make a clear case for “why this school.”
Not only can you acquire invaluable connections and insights to bolster your application, depending on the size or scale of the event, but you also have the chance to make a lasting personal impression with an admissions gatekeeper. In my role as an expert coach with Fortuna Admissions, I speak with so many candidates who have no idea that schools track event registration/attendance on the back end, and that it’s directly tied to the applicant’s file in many cases (many schools use the same software platform for both the application and event management, so it is all tied together). Whether you take full advantage of these opportunities or not can set you apart.
5 Tips for Making the Most of a Virtual Admissions Session
- Practice your elevator pitch. This means being able to convey ‘why business school,’ along with your post-MBA plans, in a brief minute or two. Keep your audience in mind; the idea is to tailor your pitch to each school depending on its values and focus. Check out this example plus specific tips on crafting a great pitch by Fortuna’s Sharon Joyce. Sure, you may not need it, but just in case it is a smaller event, you may have the opportunity to introduce yourself. (Plus, ‘tell me about yourself,’ is a standard MBA interview question.)
- Prepare some thoughtful questions. Having a couple of questions in your back pocket indicates knowledge of the school and interest in building on that knowledge (see more ideas on this below). “Go with two-to-three specific questions you can’t find in any article or website,” says Judith Silverman Hodara, former Wharton head of MBA Admissions. “Not only does it show you’ve done some due diligence, you may be able to use the response that you hear as you begin to shape your essays later in the season.”
- Don’t forget to smile. Trivial as it may sound, a smile makes a big difference, especially when interacting screen to screen. While you don’t have the benefit of sitting across the table, pay attention to how you present yourself and how you convey your enthusiasm about taking the next step in your career.
- Who’s on the panel? Pay attention to the diversity of voices represented on the panel discussion. This can help you assess your fit with the personality of the school based on the current students and alumni who are actively involved in helping the admissions team engage with prospective students. If there is a particular speaker who has a similar background as you or works in a role that you aspire to be in, follow up with that person to dive deeper into what they believe to be the strengths of the program for someone like you. As the maxim goes, ‘who you surround yourself with is who you become.’
- Send a thank you note. Even if it is a very large event, even if you didn’t have direct interaction or ask any questions, at a minimum, a thank you is a nice gesture. Ideally, if there is additional engagement through that thank you note, even better, like a follow-up question, or a request to be connected to a student, etc. Says Fortuna’s Randall Sawyer, former Cornell Johnson Assistant Dean of Admissions: “Send a thank you email if you want to be like everyone else. Or, take a moment and write a thank you note and send it by old fashioned US Mail if you want to impress and be remembered.”
Topics to think about when asking questions during an online admissions event:
- What kind of special initiatives are on offer (leadership programs, entrepreneurship centers, Global Trek, opportunities to study on other campuses/exchange programs with another MBA program, cross-discipline electives) particular to your academic interests? (AdCom event)
- How has Covid changed the landscape, and how has the institution responded and/or innovated? (AdCom event/or student/alumni event)
- What is it REALLY like to be in the program? (Student/Alumni event)
- What is the classroom vibe? (collaborative v competitive, discussion-based v lecture style, etc) (Student/Alumni event)
- What opportunities outside the classroom are available (time for student clubs and extracurriculars)? What types of events does the program host to foster community? (Student/Alumni event)
- What was the most surprising part of your experience? (Student/Alumni event)
- What can an incoming student do to take full advantage of the resources offered by the school? (AdCom event/or student/alumni event)
- What are opportunities for family to be involved in the program? (AdCom event/or student/alumni event)
For more advice and insights, view my video strategy sessions with Fortuna’s Matt Symonds, How to Build a Rapport With a Business School.
Julie Ferguson is an MBA Admissions coach at Fortuna Admissions and former Chicago Booth Senior Associate Director of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.