MBA applicants spend lots of time practicing their responses to the questions they’ll likely face in an admissions interview. What many haven’t realized is that the questions they ask the business schools might be just as telling.
“Fit is important, and interviews exist to assess that,” says Kurt Ahlm, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “This is as much about the school finding out about applicants as it is about applicants finding out about the school.”
You cannot ask any old question. You have to put some thought into it, according to admissions committee members at top business schools. “We want to see candidates use the questions to show a genuine interest in the school,” says Christine Sneva, executive director of admissions and financial aid at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Asking about the direction and vision for the school over the next few years tells interviewers you are imagining what life would be like for you on their campus, says Sneva. The same is true, she adds, of questions about whether the interviewer likes living near the school and what she does for fun after work.
Of course, questions about life near campus only work for those who still live in the area. Knowing a bit about who is interviewing you is a must. Applicants should tailor their questions to students, alumni, and administrators, all of whom conduct interviews for various schools, says Richard Lyons, dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. The interviewer owes you a good answer, too, he adds.
In fact, Lyons says applicants should ask “powerful questions,” ones with responses that will offer them clues as to whether this is the right school for them. The top three questions he thinks applicants should ask are:
1. Does the school’s mission and culture have any defining characteristics?
2. What percentage of classmates would you choose to work closely with or for after graduation?
3. Can you provide a concrete example of how the school’s location affects the student’s experience?
People mistakenly believe there is no way to mess up this portion of the interview. Asking for responses that can easily be found on the school’s website or with a minimal amount of research tells the interviewer you have not done your homework, says Ahlm.
Knowing the format of the interview is also helpful, and the schools expect you to research this and the basics before you sit down to chat. Some administrators don’t mind if you skip the questions all together. “Don’t ask a question just to ask one,” says Ankur Kumar, director of MBA admissions and financial aid at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “There is no penalty for having done your homework.”
Still, most say there’s only so much you can learn from the website and other sources. They would prefer that applicants take advantage of the opportunity to delve deeper into the experience they might have if they enroll.
“Applicants might feel like they know enough,” says Sneva. “But you never know enough until you’re here.”