Fit. Culture. Two buzzwords often thrown about when discussing selecting which school to attend for your MBA. The school you select is not just where you will spend the majority of your time the next two years, but also consists of the people who will shape your experience in school and the rest of your life. Finding the sweet spot on various spectrums of collegiality v. competiveness, social v. scholarly activities, and city v. rural is an extremely important factor in finding the right “fit.” I believe campus visits are the most important aspect in determining your fit and selecting a school, but to really get a feel for the school, you need to look deeper than any presentations and tours and read between the lines.
Most campus visits consist of a day long schedule that include class visits, presentations from different program offices, tours, and chats with current students (and some offer an application fee reduction!). All of these activities provide great insight into the program, campus, and environment. Speaking with admissions officers is a great opportunity to get insights on the application process, ideal candidates, opportunities within the program, and other more individualized questions that may not be readily available online. Yet, I would argue one of the most important factors in your visit should be connecting with current students—both through conversations and observations.
When you are sitting in a class take note of the engagement levels. Are a few individuals dominating the conversation or is participation widespread? What sort of comments and questions are being raised? I knew I wanted to be in an environment where I felt very pushed and engaged by my classmates, but not one that was overly competitive. In all of my campus visits I paid less attention to the actual class and focused more on the environment within the classroom. What I saw in these classes had a huge influence on my final decision.
In between your sessions, try to observe as much as you can about the students around you. Are people walking straight to class or stopping to chat? Do you see groups of people working together in common areas or break out rooms? Do people seem to know one another? Watching and listening really helped me get a feel for how close knit, collaborative, and social each class was. Whatever your values are, make sure to take note on how they may be reflected in current students.
Finally, in all of your conversations with current students, ask questions that can give personal insight. Although somewhat unoriginal, one of my favorite questions to ask was why the individual selected the school. Each person typically has a different answer and this can provide great information on the personal connections to the school. Some other great questions:
- Has there been anything unexpected (good or bad) in your experience?
- How was your personal adjustment in starting school again?
- How much time do you usually spend at school?
- How often are you with classmates socially/outside of school?
- What has the career center done to prepare you? Do you feel prepared for interviews?
- What clubs are you in? Why? What do you do in the clubs?
As a first year who has been given the opportunity to host prospective students in class and hold informal coffee chats, I always use the opportunity to be as open as possible. These types of conversations are invaluable in understanding more about the school culture and your fit. They also provide a lot of helpful information in preparing for essays and interviews.
Bottom line—visit every potential school that you can and use the opportunity to be a fly on the wall. Gather as much information as possible, both from presentations as well as subtle observations. Finding the right fit can seem like a difficult task, but once you find your MBA home it will seem like the obvious choice.
Hope to see you on campus!
Forté Fellow and MBA Candidate 2015
Georgetown University (McDonough School of Business)