Last week, we talked about using the month of May to jump start your fall applications to MBA programs, and one of the best ways to do that is to take advantage of the opportunity to visit campuses while school is still in session. Waiting to tour a business school (or any grad school) during the summer months is almost a complete waste of time, because there are no classes in session and all you are seeing is a bunch of empty buildings.
That leaves either the end of the school year (now), or the fall. And the problem with waiting until the fall is that you run the risk of missing out altogether, as many schools have round one deadlines that occur before campus visitations fully open back up (for example, Stanford GSB’s round one deadline last year was October 7, while most opportunities to engage with students and faculty kicked off in mid-October), or your are simply too busy cranking on your applications to find the time.
All of which makes May a critical month for visiting campus. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for maximizing your campus visit:
1. Be the buyer, not the seller.
Too many people think of a campus visit as a chance to show off and impress the school. This is a poor use of your energy, for a couple of reasons. First, a campus visit is all about acquiring information – info that will help you choose your list of schools, info that will help you ultimately pick which school you will attend, and info that will help you gain admission in the first place. You are on an investigative mission, not an audition. Second, MBA programs simply will not know whether you were amazing or an abomination. Not to diminish the people who work in admissions (hey, I was one of them), but there is no way that a business school has the resources to closely monitor and record the actions of a random visitor who comes to campus four months before the next application deadline.
Right now, admissions officers are finalizing enrollment for the incoming class of 2010, they are planning upcoming recruiting trips, and taking vacations to recover from another busy year. To think they are filing away notes about you is crazy. Knowing this, free yourself from the burdens and pressures of “performing.” Don’t do something stupid that gets you kicked off campus or turns you into a cautionary tale, but at the same time, don’t worry about winning over the student or professor standing in front of you. Ask them real questions. Get some dirt. Engage in the world around you.
A big advantage to visiting campus in late spring is that everyone lets their hair down. So let yours down as well and really come away from the trip with an understanding of that program’s DNA. If you visit a campus in May and come away feeling like it was an artificial experience, it either means that your approach was wrong or the school is as fake as a million-dollar bill.
2. Work on your sales pitch.
In last week’s blog, we talked about honing your sales pitch and there is no better place to trot it out than at an actual business school. If your reasons for pursuing an MBA seem odd, if your timing is all wrong, if your career goals are overly ambitious, there is no better way to find that out than by talking to a current MBA student who is dealing with a live marketplace.
You want to come out of a campus visit feeling like your personal pitch – your reasons for applying, your goals, your passions – has either been validated or improved. If you find yourself confused after visiting campus, it might be time to seek consultation with an expert.
3. Start composing your application.
We don’t mean literally, of course, but you should absolutely check out last year’s essay questions and do some thinking about what the MBA program in question really cares about. Knowing that Wharton has an ongoing focus on student community and globalism helps you when you go to the Penn campus. Now you can ask questions, visit classes, take tours, and explore programs with those key themes in mind. You will leave your visit with a better idea of how you fit with that school and also with some specific conversations and interests that you will want to mention in your essays.
Context is everything when applying to grad school, and being able to place yourself and your life/career arc into the context of what makes a school tick is critical in writing impactful essays and properly expressing program fit. Your very best chance to marry “you” the candidate with the MBA program in question is when you are physically there. So while you are researching as a consumer, don’t forget that you are also an applicant who has to connect all the dots. Give yourself the opportunity to collect data, make connections, and lock in a fit with the place while you are there visiting.
These are three simple suggestions, but they will make a big difference on your campus visit. If you stay relaxed about your own need to “perform,” it will allow you to stress test your goals and start building a powerful application story, even as you are checking things off your own wish list.