How important are business school campus visits during MBA applications?

Top 10 MBA Admissions Officer - SudsYet another question that pops its head in every conversation I’ve had with applicants is the issue of visiting the business school irrespective of where it may be located as candidates prepare their MBA applications.

Are business school campus visits a must?

Through this post, I’d like to address this question in no uncertain terms – and please note while my answer is more Tuck-specific, it stands to reason that this may be true of most other business schools as well.

Applicants are understandably concerned about the question of visiting business schools to get a sense of the place and the people. More often than not, the applicants end up linking the admission decision to visiting the school they’re considering.

Questions on this topic often take the form:

  1. Is it necessary to visit the business school when we’re applying?
  2. I didn’t get through. Is it because I wasn’t able to take the time to go visit the school?
  3. I’m unable to make the campus visit trip since it’s a huge commitment given how busy I am in my job (commitment of finances, time, energy, resources, etc.). Does it reflect wrongly when the Admissions Committee is reviewing the application?
  4. How can I assure the Admissions Committee that this school is my top choice even if I’m unable to make the trip?
  5. What choices do I have other than making the trip since it’s practically not possible given my situation?

All of the above questions in so many ways point to the predicament international applicants find themselves in.

Does it make sense to make a not-so-inexpensive trip to US (or Europe) to visit a number of business schools the applicant is targeting, without any idea whether the trip will actually result in an admission in any school?

If the same level of commitment can be communicated through the application without actually visiting the school, then isn’t the trip redundant?

Each of these is a fair question. And let me assure you off the bat that Admissions Committees at business schools are not unreasonable.

I’ll take a US-centric view in the rest of this blog, and even a Tuck-centric view since that’s the school I know best, but that doesn’t imply a loss of generality unless a given school has laid out a specific policy regarding school visits.

 

What are the benefits of campus visits?

Any candidate who takes the time to visit Tuck is able to register ahead of time to initiate an interview and get that out of the way while in Hanover. She’s also able to attend a class, interact with current students, etc.

The candidate thus is able to walk away from the visit with the knowledge that she has been able to interview while getting a first-person experience of what the school and its community has to offer. She can then relive those experience when writing the essays, which, she hopes, will only make for a more impactful application overall.

In many other schools, an interview is not guaranteed just because someone has taken the time to visit the campus. But still, the visit will inform the candidate’s essays and allow her to stake a claim that she’s serious enough about the school to deserve an interview as and when her application comes up for review.

Remember there are only a limited number of seats at Tuck (and, of course, at every other school), so just because a candidate has been able to either visit the campus or give an interview while visiting doesn’t mean she’s going to automatically get admitted. It all depends on the overall pool of applicants who have applied alongside her, and how strong the rest of her application is.

What does end up happening is when someone visits Tuck, they are completely bowled over by the intensely human place that is Tuck – the idyllic environment, the opportunity to hobnob with the best and the brightest in the world, the highly personal nature of the program, the fact that people get to know you at a personal level – so much so that candidates who visit the school end up falling in love with the place, and can’t think of going anywhere else for their MBA.

Those are all very positive emotions but the fact is there are only so many students the school can accommodate at a given time.

Now the other side of the story. 
 

Am I at a disadvantage if I cannot go for a campus visit?

A vast majority of applicants from India are unable to take the time to go visit the school due to any number of commitments or due to limited resources or both.Does it matter? Not really.

I interview a substantial number of these candidates (ably assisted by second year students who also interview a good number of them). We err on the side of interview rather than not, so it’s no surprise we tend to interview a large number of applicants.

For what it’s worth, a majority of admitted students from India are part of the group that would visit Tuck for the first time at the time of matriculation. So what is it that swung it in their favor compared to the pool that actually took the time and effort to visit the campus?

The answer lies in the events Tuck and pretty much every other top school conducts in the country. Tuck Admissions, for instance, conducts more than a hundred events for applicants around the world in a given year. That’s a lot of outreach – a case where Tuck comes to the applicants when the applicants are unable to go to Tuck. And these are physical events for which, members of the Admissions Committee travel all over the world to connect with applicants.

Rather than meeting current students during a Tuck visit, applicants meet with alumni during these events held around the country. Rather than understand what students are studying now, they see what the alumni are currently doing. And in each case, they’re able to channel the passion they see in these Tuck Ambassadors into their applications.

What’s more, Tuck has been doing something else that’s unique to its outreach activities. For the past couple of years, we’ve been able to organize mock-class events taught by Tuck professors when they’re visiting India. The intent is to give applicants a feel for the engaging atmosphere that teachers at Tuck engender in the classroom.

And these mock-classes are not attached to an admissions reception. They’re their own standalone events, a solid 2 to 2-1/2 hour discussion on some of the real cases being worked on by the professor.

With all of these localized options at their disposal, candidates who are based overseas are not at any particular disadvantage compared to the group that chooses to visit the campus. Furthermore, they’re able to get a sense of the school in as much detail as would someone visiting campus.

To the above physical events, add the online events the Admissions Committee organizes every year, and the total number of events skyrockets even higher. That’s the whole point of these online and offline events – make Tuck more accessible to applicants irrespective of where they may be in the world.

In addition, there are opportunities to connect with current students or alumni from a specific background using Tuck Connections. All one has to do is sign up and give details of the kind of profile they’re looking for, and they’ll be connected sooner or later with a Tuckie that matches the description.

In closing, Admissions Committees fully realize, understand, and appreciate the fact that not everyone has the wherewithal or the resources to make a trip to visit campuses on the other side of the world.

So the issue of visiting the campus is not as much an onus on the candidate as is the candidate’s demonstration of how well she has researched the school and has been able to connect with students/alumni in a way that shows her commitment and enthusiasm for the school.

However one is able to showcase this connect, we’ll take it. So what should you do? Attend all the events you can on the ground and make an impression. Make your presence count!

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Sudershan Tirumala //
Sudershan Tirumala

Suds’ association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

2 Comments

  1. Ankit Chaudhry says:

    Hello!

    First of all thank you for such an insightful post. Really gives hope for people like me :)

    Really poor graduation record managing 54% in Engineering from Manav Rachna in Faridabad. Mostly because of immaturity and lack of interest in technical field. But like most of us Indians chose Engineering after passing out with science in school.

    Haven’t been working but helping out my family in managing a small school in my hometown. I’ve been preparing for Civil Services along with it. Have appeared for Mains last year and expecting the call again for Mains if that has any value in boosting my chances.

    I would want a realistic view of my chances for top MBA programs :)

    Thanks in advance.

    • Suds says:

      Ankit,

      Thanks for your comment – glad you found the post insightful. Regarding your question, civil services exam preparation and MBA admission are mutually exclusive, so performance in one has little, if any, implication on the other. At some point, you’ll need to work on CAT/GMAT etc. if you’re serious about MBA. But if you’re focusing on civil services, then go all out and get it! If you change your mind and start working on the MBA plan, then you’ll need to think through what you want to accomplish in your career, why, and how, and be able to relate your goals to your prior experience of helping your family manage the school. Your ability to get into top schools will be a function of how well you do in standardized tests and how well you’re able to articulate your story in the application as well as the interview.

      Whatever you decide to do, be it Civil Services or the MBA, the key is to pursue it with full confidence and no distraction so the outcome is the way you want it. Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Suds.

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