Before you throw down on a brand new car, you test drive the thing. You walk around it. You sit inside. You grip the steering wheel, get you look at the mirrors, you muck around with the stereo, you take the thing on a windy road, floor it on a straight away…
You get a sense for how everything… fits.
Makes sense, after all, a car’s cost warrants this level of scrutiny, this need for assurance prior to making that commitment—one that’s not just financial, but personal. Well, an MBA program will likely end up costing much much more than an automobile. And while it’s not quiiiiite the same thing, a test drive can be hugely beneficial.
Right now (summertime) might be a great chance to visit many of the schools before Round 1 deadlines. Besides the obvious advantage of actually seeing the place and getting a feel for it (love or hate, equally important), there are many other advantages:
1. Deciding if your sixth and seventh and eight choice school are worth applying to. Sure, your sights are set on Harvard… but guess what, everyone’s sights are set on Harvard. Big class, maybe, but everyone under the sun wants it, so no matter how amazing you are, respect the numbers! You might find that you actually prefer Tepper or Fuqua, or University of Louisiana, or wherever…
2. Meeting alumni – Alumni are GREAT sources of info! They can give you good tips about the application process, and about what the school is really like from the inside. And if you can do it in a meaningful, credible, and relevant way, you can do a little name-dropping in your essays. But be careful, don’t talk to people with that in mind… you won’t have a very productive conversation and it’ll show in your essay. Ask these guys what it’s like on the inside. Talk to more than one person, get some data. You may hear things that just click on an unconscious level and draw you to the school. Guess what? It’ll show when you write your essays and the Adcoms will respond to it. And you’d never know it unless you visit these places.
3. Sitting in on classes – Awesome chance to see if the shoe fits. What if it’s Harvard and you recoil in horror at the class structure, the people, the things they’re wearing, the color of the paint on the wall, etc. Well, that might be important to find out before you throw down a ton of cash and make such a huge commitment.
There is a flip-side to this argument, not meant to confuse, but worth remembering:
Don’t overthink it.
Meaning, if the weather isn’t great, if you happen to meet an unfriendly ****head, if the class you sit in on doesn’t run the way you’d hoped and dreamed… the school may STILL be the best bet for you. The sampling you get on a visit isn’t a perfect indicator by any means—-but between visiting and not visiting, ALWAYS elect to make that trip if you can. More times than not, it will result in clarity and a ton of enthusiasm. Bring a jar, bottle that electricity, and then unleash it in your writing.