As August and September approach, Admissions Officers from business schools around the world get ready to travel far and wide in order to reach out to prospective applicants. These trips are a culmination of months of immense logistical planning and finalizing of destinations, venues, arrangements, travel plans, and finally, actually making these events the successes they deserve to be. Here’s an inside look at admissions events.
These trips might sound like a lot of fun for the uninitiated observer. They’re anything but. Often, it’s city hopping and country hopping full of days packed with in-person interviews of candidates, evenings loaded with Admissions receptions and coffee chats and other avenues for connecting with prospective applicants, with any breaks being used to make sure everything is a “go” for the next event.
What makes all this effort worthwhile is the opportunity to meet with hundreds of prospective applicants from all around the country and around the world, answering their questions to the extent possible, and sharing vignettes of business school life in general and discussing the various aspects of the specific MBA program.
With so much going on behind-the-scenes, how can the admissions officer be possibly plugged in when so many applicants are talking at once and introducing themselves? Is there an opportunity to make a good impression in events where every attendee tries to put her best foot forward as the school visits her town rather than she visiting the business school campus?
Frankly, I don’t think this should be your worry at all. Rest assured the admissions officer is paying attention to what everyone is doing and who’s saying what. So focus on what you have to do and don’t second guess the admissions officer.
There have been a few instances when some of the attendees in receptions I’ve held, sat in the front row and paid little attention to the proceedings, were totally ensconced in their phone, rarely lifting their head, if at all. And when they did, the look was either blank as they couldn’t follow the discussion or one of amusement as if they just read a joke on WhatsApp. Now, such a performance is definitely not going to earn you any brownie points.
In some other cases, the candidates are better presented in terms of paying attention to the proceedings, but have not done any research whatsoever on the school or the community or the program or anything. To them, the event is likely the first brush with the school.
Not that that’s a bad thing, but one would expect prospective applicants to come to these events to build on their prior research of the school, not necessarily make the event their introduction to the program.
(By prior research, I don’t mean anything exhaustive – rather, something as rudimentary as looking up the website and getting familiarized with the information given, such as deadlines, class profile, tuition fee, etc.).
Given a choice, I’d rather have the somewhat uninformed candidate who is taking the effort to get to know about the school rather than the candidate who has come there only to be preoccupied with the smart phone.
All said and done, obviously, those who really make the evening come alive are the candidates who have done enough research about the school, are intrigued by some of the unique aspects of the program, and have come to the event wanting to know much more. To them, the event is an excellent opportunity to do further research – an avenue to make connections with fellow applicants as well as the admissions officer and the alumni in attendance.
These are the candidates who make the most of this setting and make a good impression overall. At the very least, they’ve started off on the right track and will be able to build on it.
The alumni in attendance are there not only to speak about their experience during the MBA program, but are there for you to connect with and get to know what they’re doing in their career, how the school has helped them get there, and how have things evolved for them overall.
In many ways, it’s a way for the discerning applicant to understand the many career paths that alumni have taken after MBA, how they’ve been able to leverage the alumni network, and, how they’ve come to the current point in their lives.
In so many ways, these conversations and connections provide a reality check for the candidates. This is precisely the point where the rubber hits the road – prospective applicants are able to see for themselves, the kind of doors that can open up for them after the MBA. They’re able to hear first person accounts of how the alumni have navigated life during and after the MBA.
These discussions help the applicants get a sense of the nostalgia that alumni have about their business school experience. The passion that’s on display will be infectious, and that’s what the candidates are able to reflect on while writing those formidable essays as part of the application.
It’s in the best interest of the applicant to really utilize these admissions receptions and coffee chats to get to know the school, the community, and the program in extraordinary detail, without having to ever set foot on the campus. And there could be a bonus lurking somewhere.
Admissions officers are looking constantly for evidence to figure out who is the right material for the program they represent, and when they see the right MBA candidate – someone who’s asking the right questions (MBA Fair Tips: Questions to avoid at information sessions), someone who’s super-engaged and seems genuinely interested in the program, someone who’s done the research and is eager to learn more – they might even offer an opportunity to have an interview on the following day.
Think the above is far-fetched? Think again. You owe it to yourself to put your best foot forward every single time you interface with the schools you’re considering. When you’re not able to visit campus, admissions receptions and MBA fairs become the next best alternative – so why fritter away the opportunity and be an also-ran?
Why not take advantage of the school visiting your city and make some really interesting things happen? Why not make real connections with people who’ve been there and done that (alumni) and get started with networking that’s so fundamental to the business school experience?
It all starts here and now, so get going!