I told my friend to do this the other day... Get a 5 ring binder and ONLY use it when you talk to current students, past students, other applicants, people at MBA Fairs, people when you visit b-school... basically anything. Keep this binder until you begin writing essays because it will come in handy! What happens is that if you go to one event in say April about a school or something, when you're leaving or a week later, you'll think of questions that you meant to ask. If you write them down you'll be able to follow up on them. My binder goes back to September of 2009. I can find notes from the first time I listened to Admissions Officers speak at my first MBA Fair. It's amazing how little I knew back then, but I did write some amazing questions to follow up on. In my binder I also have notes from when I spoke to current students on the phone. YOU NEED TO TAKE NOTES AND FOLLOW UP ON THEM. THAT'S HOW YOU DIG DEEPER...
Another way to gather information on X number of schools that you want to apply to is to attend MBA Fairs. These are usually in big cities, for obvious reasons. Seeing as though I lived in NYC, it was incredibly easy for me to hop on the subway and go to an MBA Fair to learn about schools. I do know that not everyone has this luxury, but I also know that many people make it happen. In my opinion it’s very important to do this. It’s not imperative, but hey if you can make it happen. Make it happen.
Ok so what goes on at these events and how does one get the most out of it? Well I guess I’ll tell you about the format first. Have you ever been to a career fair? Well the format for most MBA fairs are similar to career fairs.
First - You walk in and grab your name-tag. There’s also usually some sort of fancy folder or bag with some swag in it from Admissions Consulting and GMAT companies.
Second – You leave the registration table and then look around aimlessly. Sometimes
people come with others and you see them chatting and other times you stand there for a couple minutes trying to get your bearings straight. Then you start sizing up the “competition” by saying to yourself “Oh that person looks really put together!” or “Why is that person wearing jeans?” These thoughts may not go through your head but they went through mine.
Third – You pull out the map of where all of the schools are and you get started. If you’re smart you’ll do a lap around the conference center FIRST to see where all of the schools that you want to apply to are.
Forth – ATTACK! Now, let me clarify “ATTACK” because I’ve seen a lot of hilarious things happen at these events. Hopefully (actually, you SHOULDN’T) Do these things, but I’ll get to them later. When you attend these MBA fairs, you need to have a goal in mind. You also have to take stock as to where you are in the process. Some people go with the goal of just gathering all of the literature available to them from each school. Other people go to these MBA Fairs to get legitimate questions answered by admissions committee members. Some people go to the MBA Fairs to take themselves out of the application process by acting a fool. I’m not joking about that last thing either. Some people are memorable in a BAD way, don’t be THAT person.
No matter what your goal is for these MBA Fairs, there are some things that I think are important to mention regarding how one should act at MBA Fairs.
1st and FOREMOST – YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PERSON THERE. If you’re the only person at an MBA Fair, then it’s not really a “fair” per se as much as you stalked ad admissions officer into a restaurant. You will be there with hundreds of other prospective (or waitlisted) students. Do not take all of the representatives’ time. The questions you’re asking them probably are not that intricate (although we all think so in the moment) and the admissions officer wants to get as many questions asked by as many people as possible. Remember, their job is to RECRUIT. If you’re taking up all of their time then they are not doing their job.
Yes, you will be talking to admissions officers, who are very powerful people. This is the reason you attended the fair right? Well, remember that you have a nametag on and if you make a bad impression on them it’s very easy for them to simply jot down your name and wait for your application to come across his/her desk. I say that you’re not the only person there because
2nd – DO RESEARCH BEFOREHAND. These schools have websites for a reason. Do not ask admissions officers or school representatives at these events, “What is the avg. GMAT score” or “What clubs are there?” While these may be important questions, these are questions that can usually be found in the literature on the table and on the school’s website. Do all of this research beforehand so that when you get in-front of the representative, you can ask questions that show that you’re really considering the school – if you’re at that stage. Not just for the purpose of getting in but beause you’re going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t you want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck? Think about that.
3rd – BE POLITE. I’ve seen time and time again situations where prospective students won’t let others into the conversation. Remember, the school representative wants to talk to as many people as possible. It doesn’t hurt for you to ask your question and
slightly move over and invite someone else to hear the answer. It actually says a lot about you – the prospective student. It’s also just common courtesy. Remember, if the culture of the school is like that, then it will be much appreciated. If the culture of the school isn’t as such then at least you’ll feel good about yourself.
Also, there’s no need to push and shove. I’ve experienced it and have gotten really irritated sometimes to the point where I wanted to scream, “STOP PUSHING IDIOT!” Idiot would not be the operative word that I would have used, but yes sometimes it got to that point. I would usually just remove myself from the situation because again, it was never THAT serious, but I just couldn’t believe some people and their lack of courtesy.
4th – TAKE A BREAK. Think of the type of people who are in the room with you. You’ll be in a room with future (or current) movers and shakers of industry. I suggest taking a break from talking to school reps to grab some coffee, sit down, and chat with other friendly people around you. I’ve made a ton of MBA friends at the different MBA Fairs that I’ve been too. I will caveat that by saying that being in a big city, I frequently saw the same people at each event with a few sprinklings of out-of-towners. You’ll attend MBA Fairs with these people and probably cross paths while sitting in the admissions offices waiting for your interviews at other schools and then they may even become your classmates!
*Not along the lines of an MBA fair, but I have two incredibly close classmates from Johnson at Cornell University who first met each other at a Boston University admit weekend.*
5th – GETTING CONTACT INFORMATION. I’ll keep this one short, but get the contact information of the other prospective students that you met and clicked with. Also, if the admissions committee member gives you his/her card. Well...tread lightly.
6th – IF CURRENT STUDENTS ARE THERE. I remember going to some MBA Fairs and along with admissions committee members; there were also current students at the table. Think about it. A lot of students intern in major cities. There are some MBA Fairs that occur in late summer so what the school will do is shoot an email out to the 1st years and alums who are interning in NYC and say, “Hey Boys & Girls, we have admissions committee member [Insert Name] who will be at event [X} on date [Y]. We would love it if you could help out.” So schools sometimes have current students who are there too.
If this is the case, do not treat the student any differently from how you would treat the admissions representative. THEY WILL TALK TO ONE ANOTHER and current students are just as likely, if not more, to remember someone rude because they wouldn’t want to call that person a fellow alum. The worst thing that you could say to a current student is, “...oh you probably can’t answer my question.” I say the worst because as a current student who has just GOTTEN IN to the school that you’re trying to get in to, it’s very insulting. Additionally, the AdCom doesn’t really know everything that goes on at the school in terms of the student experience. Sure, at small schools the AdCom member sees the students almost daily and has school-wide meetings with the faculty and what not, but that’s pretty much it. Students are the one’s who can tell you what the experience is like when you’re studying/recruiting/socializing at the same time and with the same people for so many hours. At the very least, ask the current student at the table whatever question it was that you had and then if they don’t know they’ll say, “Oh you should ask ______.”
7th - HAVE QUESTIONS PREPARED. I cannot tell you the amount of people who go to these events unprepared. I won’t exclude myself from this either because I’m sure I’ve done it (just can’t remember an instance). I’m pretty good with thinking on my feet and/or conceding by saying, “Oh, I was just walking by and wanted to quickly say hello, but I know these people behind me have questions.” Yes, sometimes I just wanted to say hello to admissions officers that I had seen time and time again and after 3 or 4 MBA Fairs and emails to him/her I didn’t really have anything to say, but just wanted them to think, “Oh there’s Richard!”
The questions that you do prepare should be related to your goals for attending the MBA Fair. You want to get insight as to how you can tailor your application essays. If you’re in the beginning stages of your search and won’t be applying for another year or two, then ask whatever you’d like too. If you’re applying that current cycle and haven’t hit submit yet, then ask questions that may help you with your essays. Don’t ask, “What do you mean by essay questions X?” Because all of the essay descriptions and that stuff can be found with a simple Google search. If you truly aren’t sure what they’re asking about in an essay question, ask about it in a way that shows that you’re really stuck. How should you do that you ask? Perhaps, tell them what you’re thinking and ask if you’re on the right track. If not, then they can offer some advice on how to think about it differently. That question right there could make your entire visit to that MBA fair worth it. More so than asking, “What are my chances?”