Yesterday we talked about Phase 1 of the school selection process, which begins with some independent research online. Now onto the next phase of our Roadmap…
PHASE 2: Reaching Out
Now that you have a sense for what schools might interest you, it’s time to reach out to students and alumni to get a better perspective for what life there is really like. It will also provide you with an opportunity to get a more informed opinion on all the conclusions you drew from your independent research in Phase 1.
The best way to reach out to students and alumni is through friends, family and colleagues, since that connection will incentivize them to give you a really honest insider’s perspective. If you can’t get in touch with anyone directly, certainly reach out to the schools themselves and they’ll be able to put you in touch with someone willing to talk to you. Definitely also make sure to go to information sessions in your city, and take a campus tour if travel logistics are at all feasible. This will also benefit you in applications and interviews, since it demonstrates your interest in the program and enables you to speak about it intelligently and from an informed perspective.
An additional resource that you should not discount is online MBA discussion boards. The two most active ones are GMAT Club and the BusinessWeek MBA forums. There you will find both applicants and students willing to help each other out and provide an additional perspective on schools and the application process. The signal-versus-noise ratio is sometimes not perfect, especially with service providers using these forums as a marketing vehicle (the BusinessWeek forums primarily, since GMAT Club is more actively moderated), but they can be a valuable fount of information.
In addition to helping you verify your conclusions from Phase 1 of the investigatory process, speaking to students and alumni will further enable you enrich your knowledge of MBA programs along the dimensions of culture and fit.
Here are a few questions worth asking:
- How close are you to your classmates?
- What do you do for fun?
- How competitive or collaborative is the recruiting process?
- How competitive or collaborative are academics?
- How accessible are the faculty and other academic services?
- How much interaction is there between first and second year MBA students?
- How much interaction do you have with people outside your career track?
- What is the relationship of the MBA program with the rest of the university? Is there a lot of interaction, or do they operate largely separately?
- What student leadership opportunities are there?
- What is the relationship between the administration and the students? How involved are students in campus initiatives?
- What student groups are especially active on campus?
- What student groups are you involved in?
- What roles do student groups (both social and career-oriented) play in your daily life?
- What would you change about the program if you could?
- Why is 6 afraid of 7? (Because 7 8 9!)
Another very important thing you can glean from talking to students is specific insight on the recruiting process, which ultimately will be the most important part of your MBA program.
Valuable questions here are the following:
- Do you currently have a job for the summer/full-time?
- How supportive is career services in the recruiting process?
- How understanding are professors about recruiting schedules?
- Do XYZ companies take part in on-campus recruiting?
- Is ABC industry well-represented in on-campus recruiting?
- What kind of support does career services provide for off-campus recruiting?
- How much of the recruiting process occurs on- versus off-campus?
- Beyond career services, what organizations or student groups are there to offer assistance in the recruiting process?
- How helpful are second years in recruiting?
- How helpful are alumni in recruiting?
- Any nightmare recruiting stories?
At this point, you should have a good sense for what schools you actually want to apply to. Your short list will likely include a couple of top choices that you really love, and some back-up schools that while not ideal would still suit you well in terms of fit, career prospects, and academics. To be clear, your top schools need not be the highest ranked ones, or the ones with the most notable brand. Your top schools should simply be the ones that you would be most excited overall to attend.
Armed with this knowledge, you should begin working on your applications, even as you enter Phase 3 of the school selection process. That’s right, the school selection doesn’t end here. Chances are, it’s going to last all the way to the day you finally sign your acceptance letter.
Up next… Phase 3: Experiencing it Live.