The campus visit is important to business school applicants because it can enhance their application and give them a sense of where they might one day earn their MBA. Although most experts agree that visitors should not get hung up on garnering face time with the busy admissions committee, some programs go as far as aiding them with their application, says Sam Kang, director of admissions for the full-time MBA/MS programs at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business (Smith Full-Time MBA Profile).
"We can help them improve their application, counsel them about the timing of turning it in, and establish a relationship with them," Kang says.
Indeed, even at business schools with large enrollments, candidates can gather specifics about the campus that will improve their applications and interviews, says Graham Richmond, co-founder and chief executive of the admissions consultancy Clear Admit in Philadelphia. At smaller programs, such as the University of Virginia Darden School of Business (Darden Full-Time MBA Profile) or the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business (Tuck Full-Time MBA Profile), the campus visit is even more important, because admissions committees make note of it, says Richmond.
Giving serious thought to one's campus visit is of paramount importance, because just showing up is not going to get a candidate very far, says Linda Abraham, president and founder of admissions consultancy Accepted.com in Los Angeles.
"Planning a visit when students aren't on campus or school isn't in session is a mistake," she says.
Taking advantage of all the school has to offer visitors—from attending a class to dining with a student—is in an applicant's best interest, says Abraham. Also, an applicant must be courteous to everyone he encounters. When he worked in the admissions office at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile) from 2000 to 2002, Richmond says he would open applications to find notes about applicants who were rude or demanded meetings with the admissions committee and then had nothing to say.
Getting the school's version of the program is important, but so is doing one's own investigation, says Richmond. The following are must-do activities to get a full picture of an MBA program.
Talk to Students
Students hold the key to unlocking a business school's culture, says Sherry Wallace, director of daytime MBA admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School (Kenan-Flagler Full-Time MBA Profile). Getting feedback and information from many sources, including faculty and staff, should be your goal, she says.
"You don't ever want to form a conclusion about a school after talking to just two people," says Wallace. "I encourage applicants to get a variety of interactions on campus."
Some business schools schedule an opportunity for candidates to eat lunch on campus with a student. It is even better, says Abraham, if a candidate can find out on his own where students hang out, such as a cafeteria or quad, and strike up informal conversations with people.
Another way to meet students, Richmond says, is to network with former colleagues who now attend the business school. Consider tracking down fellow prospective students, current students, and alumni through the Businessweek.com B-School Forum to compare notes and get suggestions on tackling the campus visit.
Ask students to describe the school's culture in their own words, have them discuss the level of competition among students both in class and for jobs, ask about the level of help they receive from the career placement office, and find out if they are satisfied with their decision to attend this program. Keeping in touch after the visit, even if just via e-mail or Facebook, says Wallace, is a way to stay on top of what's happening on campus.
Investigate Job Placement
MBA applicants making a campus visit shouldn't knock on the doors of the career management office, because the staff needs to stay focused on current students, Wallace says. Still, she adds, applicants need to seek information about jobs.
"You need to get the full picture of career management without visiting the office," she says.
Her advice to visitors is to track down job placement statistics for the school and think of the admissions committee as a liaison between candidates and the career office. Direct all career questions to admissions staff and keep an eye out for Web chats or information sessions with career placement representatives, Wallace wrote in an e-mail.
Asking about the latest available placement statistics is an obvious place to start. Candidates should also ask about the kind of help they will get looking for nontraditional jobs, the kinds of workshops that are available through the office, and the types of recruiters who come to campus or have strong relationships with the school. Of course, asking about specific employers and industries that interest you is always a smart idea.
In the school profiles available on this site, you can find out which companies recruit at each program and some recent placement statistics, including the percentage of graduates finding jobs, average salaries, and top internship recruiters.
Get to Know the Faculty
Sitting in on a class is a part of most structured campus visits and will quickly give you a sense of whether professors rely on lectures or case studies, the extent of student participation—even the kind of relationship students have with faculty.
"You'll be spending a lot of time in the classroom," he says. "Getting an idea of classroom culture is important."
In class, visitors cannot participate because that right is reserved for paying, enrolled students. By organizing a meeting with a professor who conducts research in the prospective student's target field, a candidate can get a greater perspective on how the business school can help him reach his goals, says Richmond. Questions about the research, how students can get involved in research projects, and what kind of links the faculty have with the greater business community serve candidates well.
"Ask for a sit-down," he says. "It gives you a measure of how accessible the professors are."
Asking the admissions staff to pair a candidate with someone who has similar goals or with the president of a club that interests him, says Abraham, is another way to get more information about the issues most pertinent to that person. Use your time with these individuals to learn about the kinds of roles one could take on as a student.
Is the Program Family Friendly?
Some business school students bring with them a spouse, significant other, and children. Meeting with members of the school-sponsored partner's group or others who have children will give you an idea of what life will be like for your family, points out Wallace. Ask lots of questions about the living arrangements, schools and activities, and jobs, both on campus and in the surrounding area. Be sure to also find out if the campus is family friendly or geared more to single students.
Take the Grand Tour
MBA applicants visit B-schools to get a sense of what life would be like if they joined that particular community. They shouldn't neglect the greater university outside the B-school, Kang says.
"They should explore the entire campus, not just the business school, because the entire university will be at your disposal," he says.
Candidates should ask current students and recent alumni about where students like to hang out, what parts of the university are most relevant and accessible to the business school students, and what living in the city or town is like.
In fact, Wallace says that one of the questions candidates ask current students is, "Where should I grab dinner around here?" She suggests that visitors to her campus check out the Chapel Hill neighborhood beyond the university. In addition to being part of the Research Triangle, a center of high-tech and pharmaceutical research, it is also home to a vibrant music scene.
"Get a feeling for the community you might one day join," she advises.