I’m going to start this section out very bluntly because In case you don’t read the whole chapter (which you should), I want you to leave with this in your mind. I’ve been asked this question many many times from my blog, emails, conversations, phone calls, etc
etc. “Should I visit the school, before I get in?” The short answer is YES – YES – YES – YES – YES – YES! I will lay out WHY you should visit schools and what to do when you are visiting schools. Here we go.
It’s amazing to me that people won’t buy a car without test-driving it. People won’t buy a house without visiting it. People won’t have children without... wait what? No just joking with that last one. I was trying to figure out another major life event that one goes through. But all joking aside, attending business school is not cheap. I can say that unequivocally because earlier tonight I had to fill out my Student Loan exit survey and saw the 6 figure amount that I have to pay back – and I actually got some scholarship money! Yes, it’s still 6 figures – go figure. ::shrugs::
In all seriousness though, here’s how one should approach it:
Exhaust all online resources about a school
Talk to students (you know how to reach out to them now)
Complete & submit application
Have you ever wondered why maybe admissions officers or current students ask you on a phone chat, via email, or a skype interview if you’ve ever visited the school? Well, it’s because they want to know the extent to which you’ve done your homework about the school. They know that by doing so you would have gained another perspective in the school and it shows some initiative. You have no idea the notes that they’re taking on you in every interaction, so take this excuse as to why you may not be a good fit for the school by visiting the school.
I found school visits to be imperative to me not only being able to truly get a feel for the CULTURE & FIT of a school, but then being able to embed those feelings into my essays. Now, I did not do this for all of the schools I applied too and I won’t speculate as to what may have happened had I did. I just wanted to let everyone know that, no, when I applied I didn’t do everything “correctly” but in hindsight, I see what impact that may have on students.
Aside from using the information gathered during your visits in your essays, you will also be able to meet students whom you may have not been able to meet before. You never know what type of insight that connection may provide into the true culture of the school. This is very important because trust me when I say this – what you read on the website is the superficial/PG version of what really goes on at each business school. By visiting the school you will get to pull back the curtain and take a peek into what really goes on. Students will often be more candid in person than via a phone conversation or in person.
Here’s also a tip for 1st time applicants and waitlisted or re-applicants and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You’re competing against people who are flying from around the globe to visit schools. Don’t believe me? During my visit for my interview at Johnson as a prospective student, I remember a waitlisted applicant talking about how he flew from India to visit. During orientation after I was admitted, he came up to me and said that he had read my blog and that he was in fact that gentleman. This is not an isolated case by any means because I’ve met (I won’t say MANY), but as a current student, I’ve met applicants who flew from other countries to either do a campus visit prior to submitting their applications – for their interview – or as a waitlisted applicant. Now knowing this, I
think a smart applicant would say to him/herself (Okay, I BETTER make the trip from X State to either visit or for my interview).
I know that gas prices are high, flights are expensive, taking off work is tough but ask yourself – is this your dream? The opportunity cost of not doing everything in your power to improve your chances is too high. Now, I didn’t fly all the way to California to visit because by the time I was about to “hit submit” on my applications, I was broke as a joke! So I definitely understand the expense side of things. If you can’t do it financially, then, I would NOT suggest taking out loans to do so, but if you can make it happen – then your chances would be improved by doing so.
After having blogged about my experiences visiting schools, I received a message from a blog reader asking a couple of questions. At this time I didn’t think that I was an expert on school visits, but I knew that my candor was eye-opening for some. Here are the three questions that were asked to me.
1. How important do you think the visit is to the schools?
2. Do you think schools care if you visit?
3. Do you think that if I visit in January after deadlines, those schools that like for prospective students to visit would weigh this visit the same as if I had visited before my application was sent in or do you think they wont even consider my visit when evaluating my profile?
The way that I think about school visits is not from the perspective of "Oh what will the schools think of me visiting?" I was more from the perspective of "Oh...can I see myself at school X with student at school X for two years and enjoy myself?" That's how I went into every school visit. I didn't care too much whether or not the school "cared" if I visit because I care. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to visit all of the schools that I'm interested in and I believe that it's VERY IMPORTANT to visit if you're able to.
When I visited a school I could just get a sense of the atmosphere and if I would like to be associated with those people for the rest of my life. Sure, I reach out to students prior to visiting (One school resulted in a bad experience just from doing that) but I really get a sense for the school during the times when there are no prospective events going
on. So for instance having attended many diversity conferences and such, when we have free time for like 15/20 minutes or so, I'll just sit and observe the current students and how they interact with one another. Or I will walk around campus by myself and also observe how people interact with one another.
During class visits, I don't pay attention to what the professor is saying as much as I observe what the current students are doing during the class. Usually during the classes you're sitting in the back of the class and if students are allowed computers, you can see if they are looking at the proper materials or on Facebook or instant messenger. I'm not saying that I would write off a school simply because of this fact, but it gives you a sense of the level of engagement at each school – or so I thought. I have seen different situations at different schools, and they stick out in my head. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that any student who has a laptop open and is on Facebook is a bad student or whatever, but in my opinion it does affect the class, in some way shape or form.
Do I think schools care if you visit? Hhmmm... some schools yes and other schools no. I know some schools track all of the interaction you have with the school whether it
be an information session or an email to an admissions committee member. I know this for a fact and from my observations it seems to be the smaller schools (one in particular and no it's not Dartmouth) that does this because they have the time to do so.
Sure you can visit during the admitted students weekends after you're admitted, but at that point how do you know you chose the right school to apply to in the first place? I mean I literally struck a high ranking school off my list after I visited. I walked away from the visit saying to myself "I would not enjoy being here with these students for 2
years." Was that a hard conclusion to arrive at? Hhmmm...after the visit no it was not. Prior to the visit I would not have even thought of doing it.
Another benefit of visiting the schools is that you learn a great deal about the school that you cannot learn from a website or a brochure. All of the schools say that they're collaborative..they all have student groups... most all have sections... all top schools have great recruitment placement etc etc... So to me it's funny when they all say "oh make your essays different" and yet all of the information they put out there about themselves is the same.
Sure from school to school there may be 1/2 things different about each program, but if all of the applicants are trying to make their essays sound different, they're going to hone in on those 1 or 2 things. By visiting schools prior to applying you learn all of the little nuances that make each school different. I will not go into detail what I've learned from each school, but I can guarantee you that my essays will be very tailored to my experiences with each school. It may come down to me being able to reference something that I experienced or realized while visiting, but those "little" differences make it all worth it in the end.
Plus I like meeting new people so school visits excite me. If you've been following my journey from the beginning you'll remember that I didn't know anyone who was getting an MBA when I began this process. Now I have friends on Facebook... current students cell phone numbers...email addresses...linkedin profiles....etc etc, whom I can contact should I have any questions regarding their schools....insider questions at that. And since I've built up a rapport with them I can ask them very candid questions if need be. I mean when I was up at Tuck just recently I contacted a couple people just to catch up with them because I remember when they were first years! When I was at the Reaching Out Conference in LA last month, I ran into someone whom I met back in October of 2009 who gave me some great information about NYU. These interactions are priceless and would not come about if I did not visit schools. You can only get so close to someone via email so being able to meet them in person is a "good look."