This article is sponsored by Stratus Admissions Counseling. As a prospective MBA applicant, you’re likely getting a lot of emails in your inbox from MBA programs inviting you to information sessions, webinars and MBA tours. Depending on where you are in the application process (just exploring versus applying this year), you may have different goals for the event. It’s important to engage with the schools you’re interested in as much as you can so you can learn if the school is a good fit for you and so the school can learn some more about you. It is worthwhile to spend some time to have your own pitch down before attending an MBA tour or information session. What are your goals? What are your areas for development? Knowing these things will enable you to make the most of your time as you engage at these events. Here are the different types of events and what you should do at each to make it an effective use of your time. MBA Tours or Fairs. These events gather together admissions officers, deans, and alumni from dozens of top MBA programs so applicants can learn about a large number of schools in one afternoon or evening. With many other demands on your time, you may be wondering if it’s worth it to attend, what you’ll learn and which fair is the best. Some MBA applicants will have multiple options to attend an MBA tour in their city while others may not have any come to their town. If you have a choice, try to match the programs you’re interested in with the ones attending the fair so you can learn the most about the schools that are the best possible matches for YOU. Here are some popular MBA fairs that will come to many cities around the world: Forté MBA Forums Access MBA The MBA Tour QS World MBA Tour Here are some tips for success at MBA tours: Prepare in advance. It’s a good idea to spend some time before the event to prepare to use your time there most effectively. Make a plan in advance of which schools you plan to visit, and look at the schedule to see which panels or speakers are the most interesting to you. For some events, you can schedule time with programs before the event, so take the time to research whether that is possible. You should dress in business attire so you look professional, and remember to bring several copies of your resume. Collect brochures. MBA programs usually have brochures or other handouts for prospective applicants to pick up at their tables. Take these home for all the programs you’re interested in, and study them! They tend to distill a school’s core values so you can learn what matters to each school and what types of students they are seeking. Websites do this too but not in this condensed form. Very quickly you can begin to understand if a program is right for you. If a brochure is highlighting entrepreneurship and that’s a key focus for you, maybe you should explore the school further. Ask questions. Be sure to have a list of questions ready for any admissions officers, alumni or current students at MBA programs, keeping in mind that often questions you ask of an admissions committee member will be different from questions of a student or alum. Some helpful questions include, “How do you think your program stands out? Do you have a list of current students or alumni that prospective applicants can contact to learn more about the program? What one piece of advice do you have for someone applying to your program?” Be sure to capture what you learn in a notebook or other centralized place so you can refer to it when putting together your applications. Connect, connect, connect. As you go from table to table learning about MBA programs, you should be engaging with representatives from the programs. Collect names and cards of any admissions officers from programs that interest you and keep them in your notebook. Be sure to make eye contact, shake hands and introduce yourself. It is unlikely that adcom members you meet will remember you from a short interaction when they are meeting dozens or hundreds of other prospective students, so don’t try too hard to make an impression. You can use a follow-up note after the fair to get on their radar. At this stage, the schools are shopping for you as much as you’re shopping for them. If you talk to current students or alumni, be sure to get their names, graduation years and something they said captured in your notebook. These details will come in handy when you’re writing an essay and want to refer to something you learned about the school from a student you met. What if I can’t make it to one? If you can’t get to an MBA fair, make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for other events that you can attend. Sometimes smaller groups of business schools travel to meet prospective applicants at multi-school admissions events, which often occur in the spring or fall. This type of event often starts with an MBA admissions officer panel that may include alumni or students speaking about the program. The presentation is followed by the opportunity for informal conversations with representatives from the MBA programs. Make sure to grab any brochures the schools offer so you can understand how each one distills its culture, values and mission. Explore other resources. Many applicants find it helpful that MBA fairs often feature vendors offering products and services related to the MBA application process, including GMAT or GRE prep, financing options and consulting services to help navigate the process. Special discounts may be offered for MBA fair attendees. The bottom line. At the end of the day, MBA fairs and tours just make it easier to learn about top MBA programs and help you discover which will be the best fit for you. Use these events to connect with the school and understand what its differentiators are. If you can’t make it to an MBA fair, you’ll need to do this research separately. Keep in mind, MBA fairs do not replace school visits. Only when you’re on campus can you really get a feel for the place, people and culture that define each top MBA program. MBA tours can help you narrow down a long list of schools but you still need to do specific research on the resources each MBA program offers and how they can help you reach your goals. School Information Sessions. Admissions officers from MBA programs, like undergraduate institutions, travel to major cities to hold events for prospective students. These events range from panel discussions with admissions staff or alumni, to presentations followed by a Q&A with alumni representatives, to a combination of the two. If you are interested in a school that is coming to your city, try to attend so you can demonstrate that interest! If you’ve already planned a visit to campus, it still doesn’t hurt to go to an information session or panel to further show a deep interest in that school. Listen. Then Ask Questions. You should come to the event with a list of questions to ask (Hint: They should not be able to be answered on the school’s website). Make sure to listen to all the presentations and others’ questions before asking yours. If current students or alumni are answering questions, you can tailor the questions more to their experiences at the school. Good questions include, “Why did you pick X school? What is/was your favorite thing about it? What surprised you about the school?” Introduce Yourself. If possible, before or after the event, introduce yourself to the school representatives and give a 30-second elevator speech about who you are, what you want to do, and why you are interested in that school. If the event is very crowded and there are a lot of people in line, don’t worry if you can’t make that introduction. Your name will be on the registration list and sign-in list if there is one, so the school should know you attended. Collect contact information. Gather the business cards of any admissions staff there or write down their contact information so you can follow up with a thank you after the event. If you have other questions about admissions during the process, you can email this contact for a more personalized approach than the general admissions email. Follow up. It’s a good idea to follow up with any contacts you made thanking them for the event and reiterating how much you enjoyed learning more about the school. In some cases, these events help solidify that a school might NOT be a good fit, which is also good information for you to have. (You can skip the note in that case.) Sometimes prospective applicants register for an event and then don’t show up. Admissions officers understand that things come up and you can’t always attend, BUT if you’re still interested in that school then send admissions a note apologizing for not showing up and reiterating your interest. If you have a plan to visit campus or attend a different session, be sure to point that out as well. Since 2006, Stratus Admissions Counseling has helped thousands of clients achieve their dreams of going to business school. Stratus counselors are passionate about coaching young professionals on their application journeys. Our seasoned MBA counselors can help you present a clear, compelling picture of who you are so you can apply with confidence.