How To Do School Visits Right
Last week a client asked the very common question “When should I visit campus?” and we thought it’d be a great time to share my top MBA campus visit tips.
The most valuable time to visit a school… drum roll please!…is:
- On your own (i.e., not during interviews)
- Before you apply
- While school is in session
And yeah, we know things are different these days. For creative suggestions to get to know schools in pandemic times, check out this video right here:
What's in this article?
1. But why visit?
First, an unsolicited visit shows the strongest commitment and greatest interest in the school. More than anything, the ad com wants to know that you want to go to their school and one way to show your interest is by taking the time to visit.
Second, visiting before you apply while students are still on campus, you’ll get a much more realistic sense of the community and campus life – an important factor in deciding if this school is the place you want to spend the next two years of your life.
And finally, if you decide you want to apply, you’ll have extra fodder for your personal statement and interviews. As you will inevitably talk about school culture and student life, now you’ll be able to add rich personal details, making your essays intimate and unique.
2. How to prepare for your MBA campus visit
Before you visit campus, you’ll want to read up on the school. Here are some resources to help your research:
- Check out this article by my teammate, Charli, about creative ways to connect with your top MBA schools
- Download Angela’s MBA Decision framework for a sense of the priorities you might want to focus on in your primary research
- Make sure to review the MBA Campus visit dress code for your target schools (hint: HBS campus visits are business formal, Stanford MBA campus visits are business casual)
Other ways you can learn about MBA schools: peruse student and campus blogs, follow the MBA programs on social media, read through the list of student clubs and see which ones pique your interest.
You don’t need to know everything about the school before you visit, but you should know enough that you feel comfortable. For example, you’ll probably want to know if the curriculum is fixed or flexible, if you have to choose a specialty, or if you can cross-register for courses.
You’ll also want to know a bit about the culture –where students hang out and if they live on campus, so you can make sure you explore the important areas! As you’re doing your research, write down any questions that you might want to ask students, the adcom, or career services during your visit.
After you’ve done your research, you’ll want to schedule your visit. Most schools will ask you to register ahead of time, but check out the Admissions website as this varies by school.
As you go through your day on campus, be sure to take ample notes!!! You will want to reference them later when you’re choosing schools and writing your essays.
Bonus recommendation: Buy a school t-shirt and take a selfie of yourself in front of the main campus building. This might come in handy if the school asks for a creative essay with multimedia aspects!
3. Get to Know the MBA Campus
Some schools have official programs to facilitate campus and class visits. If so, definitely sign up for that! Here are some links to top schools’ campus visit programs to get you started:
- Harvard Business School Class visit program is a full day of amazing insights into campus life
- Check out Stanford MBA Campus Visit events or their Campus Tours program and maybe even do a Stanford campus virtual tour before you get there
- Visit the gorgeous Harper Center on your Chicago Booth Campus visit
- Check out Wharton Campus visit program
- Schedule your Kellogg campus visit to check out their brand new facilities or attend one of Kellogg’s preview days
- The MIT MBA Campus visit options give you several ways to get to know the campus
- The Columbia MBA class visit program offers a ton of admissions events on campus
- Get over to Berkeley for your Berkeley Haas campus visitation
- Plan to spend the whole day on your Yale MBA campus visit
- Choose your spot in the NYU Stern campus visit program or meet them at one of their live or online events
But even if you’re doing a self-guided tour, here are a some self-guided mba campus visit tips to help you make the most of your time:
- Get to know the area – take an Uber or bike around the campus, through the neighboring community, before you even step foot on it.
- Go to the local hot spots where MBAs go for snacks, lunch, drinks – including the campus cafeterias and local coffee shops. If you’re visiting HBS, make sure you stop by Zinneken’s in Harvard Square for the most amazing Belgian waffles!! I personally read so many case studies from that counter.
- Find out where students hang out and study, then walk through these areas and see how it feels.
- Find out where recruiting happens. Will you have to leave campus for internship interviews? Remember recruiting happens in the dead of winter. Will you have to walk across icy sidewalks in your slippery interview shoes or can you just walk down the hall to your interview room?
- Find out where students sit in class. Are seats assigned? Do people sit in the same seat each time? Do students stay in the same classroom for all their classes? (FYI, at Harvard the answer to all three of these is yes!) What’s class attendance like?
- Where do most people live? On-campus? Off? Try to visit a dorm or walk the street where students rent apartments.
- What kinds of extras are there? How’s the gym? Are there tennis courts? Is there a chapel or meditation space on campus to check out? How’s the library? Does anyone use it?
Even asking a subset of these questions will give you a really good sense of the school and the community. So pick your favorites!
4. Sit in on an MBA classs
Sitting in on a class is one of the best ways to get a feel for a school. You’ll learn about the teaching method, the level of academic engagement, and how students and professors engage with each other. It’s hands down the best way to get to start distinguishing schools from one another, so try to make the time to do it!
Things you’ll want to pay attention during your class visit:
- How’s the quality of the professor?
- How advanced and challenging does the material seem? (you might find big differences across schools on this one!)
- How engaged are students with the material?
- How do they treat each other in the class discussion? Could you see yourself participating here and having a good time?
- Will this class style challenge you, in a good way? In a bad way?
- How would you feel about learning in this environment? Does it feel like a match for how you learn best?
Don’t forget, most schools likely have rules about conduct during class visits, so don’t forget to look them up before you go. For example, most schools will ask that you just observe and not speak up, so make sure you know before you accidentally break the rules!
5. Talk to members of the MBA program’s administration
To be best prepared for your visit, you’ll want to prepare questions to ask during informational interviews with students, and different questions to ask the admissions committee and members of the career services teams.
We often get asked, “what’s a good question for the admissions committee?” Though there’s no universal answer to that question, a good question is one that…
- Is personal to you, i.e., something you genuinely care about knowing the answer to
- Can't be answered by a quick look at the school's website, and
- Demonstrates your knowledge of and interest in the school.
For example, a good question might be something like “I’m really interested in women’s equality in business. I know HBS recently celebrated 50 years of women at HBS and I’m wondering what else the school is doing on a more regular basis to support the equality of women in the classroom?”
I recommend avoiding questions about scandals or negative press affecting the school. Combative or accusatory questions won't endear you to community members.
Your goals during these conversations should be to show your knowledge of and interest in the school and make a connection. So ask intelligent and respectful questions. Ideally, the ad com member will remember you after the conversation and put a star on your folder! But worst case, even if you botch these conversations, it’s still not going to ruin your chances of getting in, so try not to stress about it too much!
One final way to prepare is to practice your personal introduction. Not an elevator pitch (we are not a fan of those!!) So check out our article about introducing yourself in a much better way than an elevator pitch to help you with this.
6. Talk to current students at your favorite MBA programs
While you’re on campus, don’t miss the opportunity to talk to current students! It can be easy to get caught up with the campus tour, the class visit, and conversing with the admissions committee, but a great way to get to know a school is to chat with current students.
You can either do this casually – when the class visit ends, start talking to the student next to you – or more formally – by setting up coffee chats ahead of time. Before your visit, email the co-chairs of 1-2 student clubs you’re interested in and see if they’re free to meet with you before or after your campus tour. Make sure you go in to those meetings with some prepared questions!
Want some help tracking down campus club cochairs? I’ve got you covered. Here are the links student clubs at your favorite MBA programs. Click through the lists to find current co-chairs for most clubs.
- Harvard Business School Student Clubs
- Stanford Student Clubs
- Chicago Booth Student Clubs
- Wharton Student Clubs
- Kellogg MBA Student Clubs
- MIT Sloan Student Clubs
- Columbia MBA Student Clubs
- Haas Student Clubs
- Yale SOM Student Clubs
- NYU Stern Student Clubs
Good questions to ask students include:
- Anything about their experience
- How they chose the school
- What social events their club hosts
- What recruiting events their club hosts
- What else are they involved in on campus
- How supportive is the career services office
After your meetings, be sure to send thank you notes and any follow-up questions to people you met with. If you really liked anyone you met, try to stay in touch with them.
You could send them a relevant article based on their interests or send them a restaurant recommendation for the city they’re headed to next! You never know, you may even end up referencing their names in your Personal Statement!
7. Final MBA campus visit tips
Don’t forget that these school visits are for you! It can be really helpful to get to know the school, to identify why you want to go there and write about that in your essays, and to show the admissions committee how interested you are in the school.
More than anything, we recommend that you view this process as building a relationship with a community that you will soon be part of. It’s as if you were considering a job offer – you’d want intimate details about what it’s like to work there and you’d want to have some friends on the inside!
However, we know school visits can be time-consuming and expensive. So, if you can’t manage to visit all the schools you’re applying to, try to attend an event hosted by the school in your city, meet alumni for coffee, and attend any webinars the school hosts. Those can be alternative, low-cost ways to get to know the schools if you can’t manage to visit.
One last tip: if you live near a school you’re applying to, and you don’t visit, then you might as well not apply. I say this for two reasons. One – without even realizing it, it probably means you don’t actually want to go to that school. Two – if the school doesn’t think you want to go there, they won’t even give you the chance to reject them. So save yourself the trouble! Or, just visit the school! 😉
Oh, and when you’re on campus make sure you check in with the Admissions Office so they know you were there!! <- that’s really important!!
Happy MBA Campus visiting!!
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