This is a step that you should NOT neglect and I’ll tell you how one should go about doing it. The reason why reaching out to current students is a must-do step is simple. If you want to get into a business school – why would you not talk to someone who has just gotten into that business school and has been through the first year? This seems like a no-brainer but is a step often neglected.
Before you email anyone you need to first find their email address right? Well a great place to start is on the school’s website. No, don’t look on the homepage. Here’s a way to do it:
1st – Go to the school’s website
2nd – Find the webpage within the site that contains a list of the clubs
3rd – Find the list of club officers.
(you could end there and email one of them, but if you really want to make a connection) 4th – Go on LinkedIn and/or Facebook and type in each of the club officer’s names. This will tell you what their background before school was. Who knows, you may have something, or better yet – SOMEONE, in common with that person.
5th – Grab their email address from the website and email him/her (or use someone you have in common with them to make a contact).
Once you have the student’s email address then you’re good to go. Or are you? No, you’re not. Now you’ve got to take some time to figure out what you’re going to write to this person who doesn’t know who you are. I remember I would draft an email for what seemed to be hours on end before sending it off to a current student. Not sure why it would take me so long. I guess I just wanted it to be perfect.
So after you get the student’s email address what are you going to say? Well first think of your audience and this takes a bit of research (maybe not much though). Will you be reaching out to a 1st year or a 2nd year? Keep in mind that the Club officer tenure is different at different schools.
At my school, Johnson at Cornell University, the tenure of Club officers is from January - > December. So as a 1st year, elections would be in October/November. Then you would take office in January in your Spring Semester and relinquish it in November/December of your 2nd year. At other schools, it may be a October/November -> May tenure cycle. It’s important to know what the circumstance is for the student you’re reaching out too for a number of reasons.
You could just as easily ask them in the email – if it doesn’t state it on the website. If most of your questions are about things that only a 2nd year would know about, then laying out a lengthy email to a 1st year won’t be the most productive. The 1st year may try to answer the question or if he/she has a relationship with a 2nd year then you may be forwarded on. But, that right there means that now you’ll have to draft ANOTHER email. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that on the Club officer website it clearly states that the person is a 1st year and then in your email you’re asking about summer internships or full-time recruiting. That may not make the most sense, unless you ask if the person knows of a 2nd year that you can speak with.
This might seem juvenile, but lets look at how an email is laid out. I write this because I’ve not only written a lot of emails to current students when I was prospective student, but as a current student I received a ton of emails from prospective students, so I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum.
Current students are incredibly busy and you would be amazed by all of the emails that a student receives on a daily basis ESPECIALLY during the Core (first semester of business school). With this being the case, the subject line becomes very important to get the attention of the student who is most likely scanning emails from his/her phone. That’s actually what one should keep in mind ANY TIME one sends an email.
- Subject Line: The subject lines that catch my eye usually have the following words in them in some capacity – “Prospective Student...”, “Questions about [School X]...”, or “Interested in Johnson”, “Interviewing at [School X]...”
- I didn’t really worry about how to address the person. I think it’s okay that if you’re emailing a current student, you can say Hi [First Name]. Current students are not that formal! I wouldn’t use Mrs./Ms./Mr. [Last Name]. Current students have to be formal daily and we find relief in not having to be. If I received an email that started with, “Dear Mr. Battle-Baxter,” I would immediately think to myself, “well...this should be interesting.”
- Body of Email: I have a lot of pet peeves as a current student that I’m sure I made the mistake of doing. When you write the body of the email keep in mind that current students are incredibly busy as stated previously. With that in mind, you cannot ask a bunch of open-ended questions that leave the student thinking “That email will take me forever to respond to.” For instance, do not ask questions like, “What do you like about [School X]?” or “Can you tell me about recruiting?” These are the types of questions that current students see in an email and then say to themselves, “Oh, I’ll respond to this later.” Remember, theoretically, you want an immediate response or at least
acknowledgement that they received your email. If a couple days have gone by and a current student hasn’t responded to you, then your email was more likely lost in the bunch until the student cleans out his/her inbox – which could be months – or whenever the inbox hits its capacity.
A good format for an email to a current student would be the following (and in this order):
C) Ask a couple of questions that are NOT open-ended and that would take the responder about 5 minutes to respond too. Trust me, current students can type fast and usually have 5-10 minutes free between classes if they have classes back-to-back. If I can respond in 5-10 minutes then I would usually do that for fear of not getting back to an applicant.
D) If you have a lot of questions and an email response would be longer than 5-10 minutes, ask for a phone call instead. If you do a phone call then you’ll get the student’s undivided attention for 30 minutes or so. Do not suggest an hour-long phone call. No one wants to be locked in to that! If the call goes over, then great, but don’t suggest that.
The best time of the day to reach out to current students varies, however I would say: 1st year – Fall – Evening
1st year – Spring – 5pm onward
2nd year – Fall – Evening
2nd year – Spring – ANY TIME
Be weary about having the student receive emails between the hours of 10pm – 3am, for obvious reasons. If students are out and about, he she may open it, which would then be marked as “read” and then forget about it until the morning and then in the morning they will have a lot of other emails that were sent in the morning. I cannot reinforce the fact that current students receive a lot of emails each day. I would say, on average 30. That’s just the number of emails received – not that they’ve replied too. If multiple days go by then it’s just amplified and your email would go further and further down the list of importance.
If a couple days go by and you haven’t heard from the current student then it is okay to send a reminder. I would say that if 3-days have gone by (not including weekends) then you’re good to send a reminder.
Things to NOT do/say in an email EVER:
Do NOT: Say “I’m on the waitlist, Can you write a letter on my behalf to the admissions committee?” That may be okay to say to someone who you are friends with, and I don’t just mean “digital” friends, but someone who you actually know and who is at the school. Otherwise, think of it from the student’s perspective. They don’t REALLY know you so why would they put their reputation on the line to shoot an email to admissions? That’s their credibility on the line. You may be thinking to yourself, “Um, do people really ask that? And I’m here to tell you, YES – THEY DO! I have proof!”
Do NOT: Mention rankings, I can say that most business school students don’t want to justify why they went to one school or another based on rankings. It’s also just very
irritating. We definitely know where you’re coming from but to some of us it lets us know that you’re not in the correct headspace that you need to be in to focus at school.
I made this mistake and it was the jump-off for a poor relationship with one of my would be 2nd years. In March, shortly after my acceptance and before I even got to campus I was going back and forth with a, then 1st year, about his choice to go abroad. As something that I was considering, I wanted to know his thought process behind choosing the school to attend. I remember I asked something to the effect of, “How did you choose to go to school X based on the ranking of it in Europe?” Well that set off a firestorm of emotions on his part and I got back this long email about how everything is not about the rankings and how making a 1st impression on someone is very important in business school. Needless to say, I had to see this student throughout the Fall and I was never able to rekindle that relationship. Do I think that student could have handled that differently? Of course I do, but had I known better then the outcome may have been different.
Do NOT: Say that you’ll call a student at a certain time and then not do it without an email if you can’t make it. This seems like common sense but it happens. It’s the worst when you’re a current student and you’ve changed your plans, moved around an interview, changed a team meeting or something of that nature to talk to a prospective student and then the call never happens. It just leaves a poor impression of yourself and if done many times it CAN be relayed back to the admissions committee.
Do NOT: Misspell a student’s name. This is a big one. I’ve had many conversations with my classmates and friends at other schools and what sticks out in people’s minds is when you misspell their names. Sometimes students get emails saying, “I found your name on the website...” then at the bottom of the email our names are spelled incorrectly. That shows a lack of attention to detail and you don’t want that to be the first impression that you want to leave on someone.
If you’ve heard of the student’s name for a friend and can’t really make out how it’s spelled from their email address, then I guess take your best guess. But, if you’ve corresponded with a student multiple times and they have their business school signature at the bottom of their email then it’s a poor reflection on you if you consistently misspell his/her name. These are the types of discussions that students have when applicants reach out to them.
Some of you may be saying, “Well that’s not really a big deal.” But let me add a different perspective. Let’s say you’re recruiting for Investment Banking where attention to detail in a spreadsheet model is incredibly important. Well, if there are typos and misspellings of a recruiter’s name – frequently – in an email, it COULD take you right out of the recruiting process. Let me explain a little further in that when you’re recruiting for some industries, the people who you are “recruiting” with and have contact with are usually not HR professionals but rather school alums who are either recent graduates or hold important positions. It would just leave a bad taste in their mouths if you aren’t careful especially when you can probably cross-check that information with the alumni database.
Now relating that back to when you’re reaching out to current students, you just want to hedge against them not being excited to help you. Don’t forget the reason that you’re reaching out to the current student. Students have a wealth of knowledge about the
school, classes, culture, social life, etc that you probably cannot get from admissions officers.
Thank-you Notes to Current Students:
I wanted to thank you for meeting me last Thursday.
I had a phenomenal time during my visit at [School X]. Experiencing [Insert something] was undoubtedly the best part of my trip up there. During that time I definitely envisioned myself [insert what you envisioned] and am hopeful that I gain admissions to [School X].
I'll probably have more questions for you at random intervals so I'm hoping that the invitation is always open for me to reach out to you.
Enjoy your day!
One note about this... A) This is just an EXAMPLE. B) be careful with the LinkedIn requests. If you don't want your colleagues to know that you're looking into business schools, you probably shouldn't request 5 students from the same MBA program at the same time! Remember LinkedIn updates and people can see who your new friends are! It will set off red flags.