Making the Most of an MBA Admissions Event

by Elaine Conces, VP of Graduate Programs
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You are taking GMAT classes, and you’re completely focused on achieving a high GMAT score. Great! … However, I recommend that you also take time to attend MBA admissions events and information sessions in your area.

Here I offer a few tips for MBA admissions events to not only help you make a good impression on the admissions gatekeepers, but also help you improve your applications. MBA events offer valuable opportunities to talk with admissions officers about their programs, so make the most of these rare occasions.

If you know which business schools interest you, visit their websites and check their admissions events calendars. Many out-of-state business schools are on the road these days to recruit good candidates. Your target school may be coming to town as part of a large MBA fair such as The MBA Tour, QS World MBA Tour, Inside the MBA, or the Forté Forum; or a more selective group such as the multi-school partnership of Berkeley-Haas, Cornell Johnson, Darden School of Business, Duke Fuqua, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, and Yale SOM. Other schools, such as Columbia Business School and MIT Sloan, may host their own private events.

Whether the event is big or small, be prepared.

Know thyself.

Know the answer to this simple question: Why do you want an MBA?

You are preparing to plunk down a sizeable investment in time and money into your education, so you must know the answer. By the way, you will also be asked this question for your MBA application essay.

Practice framing your answer in positive terms. It’s not, “I don’t want to be in my current job” or “I don’t know what to do with my life.” It is, “I want to do this for my career / my company / my special interest / my passion / my great idea / my life.”

You should also be prepared to talk about yourself. How would you answer the following?

  • Who are you, and why are you and your background unique?
  • What are your goals?
  • What is your value to your organization?
  • What is it that you do differently or better than others?

Know the business school.

Know the answer to this simple question: Why an MBA from a specific business school? Again, you will be asked this question for your MBA application, and you will do better if you have some idea prior to the MBA event.

For a large MBA fair, research in advance to decide which 4-6 business schools are on your shortlist. This will help you use your time efficiently at the event, and not waste your time on schools that don’t meet your needs or constraints.

At a minimum, review the school websites, and read the admissions and student blogs. Each school has a reputation – make sure that you understand the MBA program’s strengths. You can find additional information on websites such as Poets & Quants and Clear Admit.

That said, you don’t need to go to an event knowing all the answers – in fact, you should keep an open mind. You may well come away from the event with new information, an unexpected new interest in a business school, or a surprising lack of interest in another.

Know what you want to ask.

Prepare the questions that you have about your target schools in advance. You are getting a rare opportunity to talk with a school representative one-on-one – an opportunity that will help you in your MBA decision and applications.

Be specific: Ask about the concentration that interests you; confirm that Professor Genius will still be teaching that plum course next year; ask which companies offered internships last year; learn about hands-on courses or study abroad. If a school’s MBA application has changed significantly, ask, “Why?” – It may mean that the school is in the middle of a shift in focus. If the curriculum has been revamped, ask about the changes. If a new building went up, or a new program added, ask about it.

By all means, ask the questions that are important to you and your aspirations. Here are suggestions to frame your questions:

  • "My career goal after the MBA graduation is X. What opportunities does your MBA program offer that would help me get there?"
  • "My field of interest is X. What classes and resources does your MBA program offer in this area?"
  • "I am interested in X topic. Do your curriculum or student activities offer anything that addresses this topic?"

Do not annoy the admissions officers by asking questions that can be easily found on the school website, such as “What is your average GMAT score?” Questions like these signal that you have not done simple research (or maybe lack good reading comprehension).

Do not ask the question that all admissions officers dread: “What are my chances of getting into your school?” They do not have your application. They do not know. They cannot tell you.

Get to know people.

Keep contact information and notes as you go. You may ask each admissions officer if you may have a contact at the school for future questions, and ask if you can get in touch with the school’s alumni in your area. Then follow up.

As you exit the MBA admissions event, eager to go back to your GMAT studies, stop. Turn on your tablet, grab some paper, or turn on your voice recorder, and quickly record your notes from the event. What did you learn that you could use to flesh out your MBA essays? Who were the people that you met? Who were the officers or alumni that you want to follow up with?

Remember the lost art of the Thank You. If you have the email addresses, send thank you notes to the people who gave you their valuable time and knowledge – and probably had to go through airline hell to bring it to you.

Know the etiquette.

The etiquette for MBA fairs and events is fairly simple:

Be on time. Many people wander into these open events late. If you are on time or early, you may have greater opportunities to engage with admissions representatives.

Dress for business, not the beach. That means no shorts or flip-flops.

Have a couple of resumes on hand, just in case. If you have the opportunity to really discuss your application with an admissions officer, you should be prepared.

If you have taken the GMAT exam already, be ready to mention your high test scores. Admissions officers will treat you very seriously if they know you are a serious contender.

For large events, try to visit with at least six schools. Know your target schools in advance, and try to visit them all.

Do not be a vampire, sucking up the admissions officer’s time and energy. Once you have the answers to your questions, and the promise of alumni contacts, move on.

Be friendly. The closer that you get to the event, literally, the friendlier you should get. That woman you ignored in the elevator? She might be an alumnae of your top business school. That guy whose car you cut off in the parking garage? Might be the admissions director.

Mingle. Network. Connect. But maintain professionalism. If alcohol is available, don’t drink much. Don’t try to pick up next Friday’s date.

Be present. This is not the time to text incessantly, tweet, or to update your Facebook status.

Know the drill.

Fuel up. Eat before the event, and perhaps bring a snack if you don’t know whether food is provided.

Move around to meet others. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be standing and walking, a lot.

Be prepared to make a connection. Carry a pen and your business cards. Carry a couple of resumes, just in case.

Be the early bird. Plan to get there before the event’s start. Try to leave work early rather than be stuck in traffic or hunting for a parking space. This is especially true if you are attending an event with a strict start time. You don’t want to be recognized by admissions officers as that person who snuck in, late, at the back.

Your GMAT score is a key to getting into a great MBA program, but your end goal is to get into the MBA program that is best for you. If you approach an MBA event with that objective in mind, you may come away with information and contacts, and you can leave a great first impression with admissions officers.

Austin GMAT Review is the premier GMAT preparation company in Central Texas, offering structured GMAT courses to professionals preparing to enter full-time MBA or executive MBA programs. Austin GMAT Review caters to busy professionals who don't have the time to sort through masses of generic study materials. Meeting with an experienced professor face-to-face in limited-size GMAT classes, students receive the personalized coaching that they need and strategies to excel on the GMAT. And when you're ready to apply to business school, we can help you successfully navigate the admissions process.

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