When you’re house-hunting, you know to be pretty thorough. Before signing a lease or mortgage, you scope out the place, check the corners for mold, size up any roommates, and get a feel for the neighborhood. You’d never buy a house sight unseen… after all, you’re going to be living there for years.
An MBA program is a comparable commitment, possibly bigger. You’ll live many places over the course of your life, but you’ll only ever get one MBA. So you should assess it in much the same way, right?
That means VISITING. This is a situation that calls for boots on the ground, for firsthand reconnaissance, and now (summertime) is a great time for those visits. In addition to reassuring YOU before you make a big commitment to a two-year MBA program, a visit will allow you to show a deeper level of connection to the program in your application essays, and may even help you to narrow down that list of programs you plan to apply to.
So, what should you do during a visit? First and foremost, you should sit in on a class or two. Get a sense of how things are done, what it’s like to be a student… and if it appeals to you. For example, we’ve all heard about Harvard’s case method, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—the only way to know for sure is to see it in action.
Get inspired, too. Maybe you happen upon a lecture that really intrigues you, and you end up going down the rabbit hole into that professor’s research, books, TED talks, and so on. This kind of organic inspiration will make you a better businessperson, in addition to increasing your connection with the program.
You should also walk the campus, go in and out of buildings (where you can), visit the libraries and lecture halls, generally make yourself feel as if you already ARE a student here—how does it feel? This is a great way to get a sense of how your “fit” with the program is, and while this is not as important to YOU as some schools make it seem (most folks can fit in at any number of very different programs) demonstrating good fit in your essays is VERY important to gaining admission.
>>>> Recommended Reading: Making the Campus Visit
Why? Because if the school accepts you and you turn them down, you cost the adcom time and money. They might have to go to their waitlist to replace you, which requires convincing students who already envision themselves elsewhere to change their minds. That’s a dicey proposition for all but the most prestigious schools. Rejected offers also hurt the school’s yield rates, which can damage their rankings. “Good fit” reassures the adcom that you’re a sure thing, and that you won’t cause them the hassle of a rejected offer.
It’s hard to nail down what “good fit” looks like, but it’s next to impossible to prove if the only knowledge you have of the program is from their website. The admissions department wrote that website… you’re basically parroting their own words back at them! While you’re on campus, talk to students and alumni. They are your BEST sources of information. They can give you tips about the application process, insider info about what it’s really like in the program, and what it means to be part of the community. Speak to a variety of people, get some data, and ask for people’s thoughts on your goals. Describing these conversations in your essays can be very valuable so long as it doesn’t look like you’re just “checking a box” by having these discussions. The key is just to be yourself: If the conversations don’t happen organically, it will be easy to tell in the essays that they were forced and insincere.
Finally, a visit can help you decide whether it’s really worth it to apply to that sixth, seventh, or eighth choice program. You may have your sights set on Harvard, but, unsurprisingly, so does everyone else. You might find upon visiting a school that you actually PREFER Tepper, Fuqua, or another program.
The flip side here is not to overemphasize the intangible “feeling” you get while visiting. This is valuable research, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in your application. There may be negatives on any visit—the weather was crappy, or you sat in on an exceptionally boring professor, or the students you chatted with were all absolute duds. Whatever it is, don’t let these overwhelm your impressions of the program.
Instead, bottle the positive impressions—the excitement you felt about the program, the inspiration you got from the class, the insight you got from your conversations with students, and channel them into your essays and interviews.
We recommend making note of your positive impressions right away—that clarity and enthusiasm might fade as time passes and you get bogged down in applications, work, and, well, life. Keep a record of what you took away from the visit so you can turn to it when it’s crunch time on your essays and you desperately need some inspiration. Your visit will give your MBA ambitions a physical presence in your memory, pushing you to get the work done!