The majority of business schools are welcoming prospective candidates to visit campus in-person after more than two years of virtual events. This is great news for applicants, as nothing can give you a better sense of the vibe and culture of a program than a visit to its campus. Although not mandatory, taking the time and effort to visit campus is strongly encouraged if you have the means.
Know that visiting campus is not a “tick the box” exercise but rather part of your overall effort to engage deeply with and learn about the school. While the most competitive schools caution that a campus visit is not formally taken into account by the adcom (Wharton even states this on its website), making the effort is a signal of your genuine interest. It’s a very helpful part of portraying yourself as a highly motivated and well-informed candidate, and you never know when a chance encounter can positively benefit your application. And, at schools beyond the most competitive, visiting a campus can carry weight, and you should treat these visits more like an interview.
My Fortuna colleague Patricia Keegan, former Associate Dean at Chicago Booth and admissions reviewer for Stanford GSB, puts it this way: “If two candidates are relatively equal in terms of credentials and one has made the effort to visit and attend events, that would definitely work in his/her favor.”
The best reason to visit a campus is for your own research – to not only see if you like the school, the environment, and the student culture, but to sense if the program and community are the right fit for you. As a coach at Fortuna Admissions for the past 10 years, I’ve heard many clients reflect that as soon as they arrived on a certain campus, they knew it was their dream school and couldn’t see themselves anywhere else. For others, it was a make-it-or-break-it situation, and they learned the school was NOT for them at all!
Moreover, learning more about a program and its particular vernacular can significantly benefit and enhance your application essays by conveying a deeper layer of understanding. Most schools provide a formal tour; try to visit when you can sit in on an information session or even attend a class (which I encourage you to do depending on a school’s covid protocols – it’s worth investigating). Sometimes a formal school visit won’t fit with your calendar, so you can reach out to Admissions to see if you can just walk around and meet students. (Try and do the former though as it will be worth your while).
As an MBA admissions coach, I’m often asked about what to do or bring (or wear!) to make the most of an MBA campus visit. So besides visiting for your own research and experience, here are my top tips to help you prepare:
TIPS TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MBA CAMPUS VISIT
- Know thy school.
Make sure you do your research before arriving so you appear knowledgeable and passionate about the program. You may find it useful to watch some admissions presentations and webinars on each school’s website and come prepared with questions to ask students and/or admissions. My Fortuna colleague Bill Kooser, former Associate Dean at Booth, says, “Make sure you understand Booth’s culture and educational philosophy (the Chicago approach) and that it actually appeals to you. If you sit in on class, you’ll get a sense of what this means.” Every school is unique and it’s important for you to understand as much about the culture as the academics and program offerings.
- Mind your manners.
How you present yourself is very important while visiting a school. It’s essential to make a good impression by being respectful, polite, and professional with everyone you meet – from the administrative staff, the front desk, admissions, professors, and students. You also want to maintain a positive tone and attitude. For example, if you are meeting with a student, try to avoid making any comments that could backfire, such as telling them their program is your backup school or that another MBA program is your top choice. It’s possible that any conversation or impression you make (even with a student), whether positive or negative, could wind up in the admissions office as many MBA communities are tight-knit. I met a lot of candidates all over the world while I was working at INSEAD, and if someone made a really good (or bad) impression on me, I always sent a note to my colleagues who would later evaluate that candidate’s application.
- Connect with people on campus.
This is your chance to really hear what goes on behind the scenes as a student. The more students you meet, the more likely you are to hear their candid and unfiltered comments about the benefits and challenges they encounter. Try and arrange meetups with students in advance, perhaps over coffee (and offer to treat them!). Many school websites list the names and even contact information of student club presidents or school ambassadors, so you can reach out to them in advance and let them know you are coming to campus and would appreciate speaking with them. Similarly, if you’ve already had some dialogue with someone in admissions, see if they are willing to meet so you can ask questions, and they can put a face to a name when your application comes in.
If you aren’t able to set something up in advance, don’t be shy. Go up and introduce yourself to a few students on campus to see if they have a few minutes to share their program experiences. If allowed, walk around community areas such as student lounges and study areas or other popular hangouts on or near campus to see if you can strike up a friendly conversation. For example, if visiting Wharton (specifically on a Thursday) go for a drink at PUB. Fortuna’s Brittany Maschal, who used to work in Wharton Admissions, says, “I’m pretty sure there is no better way to get a glimpse of Wharton’s we’ve worked hard now let’s play side…!” Whereas at Booth, go hang out in the Winter Garden or Kovler Café or at the Spangler Center at Harvard Business School.
View all five tips in my full article on optimizing your MBA campus visit, along with what to bring, not to bring, and what to wear.
Melissa Jones is an expert coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former assistant director of the INSEAD MBA Program. To find your coach and put our team’s unparalleled MBA admissions expertise to work for you, reach out to Fortuna for a free consultation.