There is truly no better way to get to know an MBA program (and for an MBA program to get to know you) than by arranging a campus visit. Before you book those cross-country flights, however, here are 6 things to consider:
#1: Start the conversation right. A campus visit is a unique opportunity for you to become more familiar with the school, but it is also an opportunity for the school to become more familiar with you. Think of your visit as a conversation, requiring input from both partners in order to keep moving forward. Do not simply show up for a campus visit and expect students, staff, and faculty to change their schedules to accommodate you. Reach out early in the process of planning a campus visit and coordinate to ensure you are getting the most out of your limited time on campus without being a burden to anyone during your trip.
It is incredibly important to show up for a campus visit having done your research. Understand what the school values and use your visit as a way to explore how you connect with those values. We recommend only visiting those programs you have a genuine, honest interest in attending, as there is no point wasting time and money visiting a program you ultimately would not be excited to attend. You do not receive credit from the admissions committee simply for showing up to the campus; a visit ought to be meaningful to both you and those involved with the program to make it worth everyone's while. Once you have identified those programs you wish to visit, begin the process of reaching out and seeing what options are available during the time you wish to be on campus, and remember to always be kind and professional in all your communication with program staff, students, and faculty
#2: Speak to the right people. It is true that everyone wants to speak with the Dean of Admissions, but that is quite often a very difficult appointment to obtain. Rather than focusing all your time on speaking with one hard-to-reach person, consider meeting with some of the junior staffers who can just as easily answer your well-prepared questions and might be willing to offer program insights you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. In addition to junior admission officers or staffers, many MBA programs have an admission contact for each region of the world or various sections of the United States. It is in your best interest to figure out who this person is and make contact with them. These individuals, as well as junior staffers, are usually happy to interact with prospective students and might even be more likely to remember your name or face when reviewing applications than a busy department chair or dean.
Never assume that someone needs to be a president or dean to wield power when it comes to admitting students to MBA programs. Treat every person you meet and interact with during a campus visit as someone you want to make a favorable impression on, ensuring those individuals remember you as a thoughtful, professional, and enthusiastic candidate for the program.
#3: Talk to students. The way to really get to know an MBA program beyond their promotional marketing material is by interacting with actual students and hearing directly from them what their experience has been like. Current students are not usually shy about sharing what they like, as well as what they do not like, about their program, and this can be priceless in determining whether or not the program is a good fit for you.
It can be especially helpful to connect with students who share a similar background with you or who are involved in clubs you would be interested in joining. When you are doing your research on a particular program, it is important to note these people and track down their contact information. Often, the Admissions Office will help put you in touch with a particular student or campus leader, and you can see about meeting with them over coffee or a meal between classes when you do your campus visit.
Again, remember that current students are very busy and be appreciative and respectful of their time. It might be helpful to write down questions before meeting with them to ensure you use your time wisely and remain focused. It can also be helpful to ask current students if they know of anyone they would recommend you speak with. If they provide you with a name and/or contact information, it is important to do your due diligence and follow up, showing that you take the information you were given seriously and are open to connecting with others on your journey into an MBA program.
#4: Schedule. Timing your visit correctly can help you maximize your experience while visiting the school. This requires planning and attention to detail on your part but will make the trip so much more informative. For example, what days of the week are classes actually in session? You do not want to show up when students are taking exams or are away on break, as this makes it impossible to speak with current students and get a feel of what life is generally like on campus. It is usually a good rule of thumb to avoid visiting during holidays, as well as at the beginning or end of a semester.
Are there any special events happening on campus or weekend opportunities that are of interest to you? You might wish to schedule a visit when a campus club is hosting a conference or workshop on a topic you would like to learn more about. Many MBA programs offer weekends focused specifically on women, under-represented people of color, veterans, members of the LBGTQIA+ community, as well as other marginalized groups. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the campus calendar of upcoming events and see if there are opportunities to do more than simply speak with students, staff, or faculty…see if there are ways you can further your education while learning alongside current students and gaining first-hand knowledge of what life on campus is truly like.
#5: Make it fun. A couple of hours spent on campus rarely provides anyone with the insight they need to know if a particular MBA program is right for them. By planning an agenda in advance, you can coordinate with more than one student, staff or faculty member. You can also include time for a campus tour, and some schools may even provide you with a voucher to the on-campus dining options to encourage you to stay for lunch. In addition, perhaps a sporting event is happening during your visit; consider attending to get a sense of the school spirit and also as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of campus life.
If at all possible, we recommend turning an MBA program visit into a mini vacation. Spend some time on campus, attend a sporting or club event, visit the bookstore, take a tour, and check out the night life and restaurants on and around campus. Consider touring the neighborhoods around the campus, as well, particularly if you are planning on relocating to a new city or state. If you have any friends or family members who live nearby, even if they are not directly associated with the MBA program, consider meeting up with them and learning more about where you might be living for the next two years.
Depending on the city, you might be able to visit more than one MBA program while you are in town; for example, a trip to Boston offers easy access to both Harvard Business School and MIT-Sloan, and a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area brings you to the doorstep of Stanford, UC Hastings, and Berkeley-Haas. Again, though, we only recommend visiting those programs you genuinely would be interested in attending, allowing you to focus your application efforts where they will result in the greatest success for you.
#6: "You had me at hello." The reality is, it is not uncommon to visit a school and immediately know that it is or is not right for you. This can be surprising, especially if this is a school you were certain you would love or even a school you did not expect to love so much. Be open to what you feel during your time on campus and do not discount your immediate gut reaction to being in the program's environment. You are the one who will be investing time and money in the program, possibly relocating to a new city or state, or even leaving behind a fulfilling job and loved ones in order to further your future career prospects.
Listen to your instincts and pay close attention to the things that stand out to you, for better or for worse. You are responsible for choosing the best MBA program for yourself, and your selection criteria are as unique as you are; at the end of the day, you have to choose where you feel like you can best succeed and apply to the programs that offer you the best path forward to continued business success.