First, a bit of a status update. With 6 weeks (that is only 1,008 hours!) to go until my first application is due (Ross and Wharton), I have been furiously drafting, editing, and redrafting essays. It is a time intensive process, but I’m finally starting to feel it speed up. The first few drafts were pretty brutal, but now I think they are “average”. I know average drafts won’t get me in, so there is still much work to do. That said, I’ve got a good jump on Ross, Tuck, and recently Wharton. I have given my recommenders all of their information, and have done some Q&A with those that have started…those that haven’t I am surprised by. I thought they would be some of my best recommenders, and they still might, but I don’t know what they’re waiting for! Why isn’t everyone as overly involved in this process as I am? I’m starting to get worried. Even more worrisome, I’ve scheduled 2 interviews at the only 2 schools that I’m applying to that allow applicant initiated interviews. Next month, I’ll be flying my way to Durham and Hanover to visit and interview -eep! With that, let’s segue into the topic of this post – school visits.
I know there are a lot of admissions consultants and blogs that will give you some advice on what to do/wear/say when you go on campus visits. There are, however, fewer fellow applicant postings on the subject. Thus, I’ll be giving you some things to think about as many of us that are applying in Round 1 are starting to think about visiting the schools we’re applying to. If you remember from previous posts, I have visited Darden and Ross last Winter and Spring. While that probably doesn’t qualify me to give advice, a lack of experience hasn’t stopped me from doing so in the past.
My first tip is to plan early. Like now. If you’re not going to interview, any just visit, your schedule should be somewhat flexible. Book a day with the school, burn a vacation day at work (or call in sick :) ), and get out there. Why now? Well if you’re like 90% of us, you don’t live next door to your target universities. I am lucky enough to be within a five-hour drive of a handful of mine, but not all. I know many of you will be flying to every school you visit. Flights are expensive, so by booking early you can get cheaper fares. Not to mention, on sites like priceline, you can negotiate a rate for your car/hotel as well – the earlier you are, the lower number they tend to accept. If you’re lucky, you might already have a friend at the school – don’t be afraid to couch surf if you are offered/feel comfortable doing so. It is a great way to get an insider’s view of the culture, and save some money. Prepare yourself for 2 years of no income/lots of debt – start being frugal now.
Next, network with current students at your schools. The admissions staff tends to have a good list of activities for you to do when you’re there, but like any trip, if you want the inside scoop, ask the locals. Some places you can find current students to connect with include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, gmatclub, Beat The GMAT, WSO, school websites, club websites.. The point is, there are numerous ways to connect with current students, so don’t fret if you don’t work at McKBain Group where every former coworkers exits to a top MBA, and every current coworker is an alumni. When you reach out, just explain that you are a current applicant who is coming to visit the program, and were hoping to talk to a current student for 20 minutes about their experiences. Don’t be offended if you get the cold shoulder – students are busy! Those that do agree to chat with you, make sure to chat with them as you would at work. Strong handshake, eye contact, yadda yadda. And be yourself! nothing is worse than talking to someone who is so nervous they can’t function. I like to offer to buy them coffee; bschoolers love free stuff.
Don’t be like Kanye & John Mayer – Relax!
Also, come prepared. If you’ve done things right so far, you’ve saved a bunch of money and have booked a trip where you can chat with students and adcom members. Don’t blow it by asking them dumb questions like what their average GMAT scores are. Don’t ask them what your odds are of getting in. Basically, don’t ask them anything that can either A) be found on their website, or B) not be answered with any sort of accuracy. Instead, ask about what they experienced at the school, what they liked the most, what they didn’t like, what they wish they knew when they were applying, cool things that are happening…the opportunities are limitless – pick a few and ask away.
Finally, take notes. I don’t mean frantically go around scribbling every word you hear. Rather, at the end of your trip when you’re waiting for your flight, bust out the laptop or notepad and reflect on what you saw. Write down names, what you talked about, what you liked, what other questions you had. This material will serve as excellent fodder for your essays – no adcom wants to read an essay that says “I met with a current student who told me they liked the university”, so be specific in your notes. As much as we think we’ll remember it, you won’t. Especially after writing essay draft after essay draft.
So that is really it – I’m happy to answer specific questions you might have. Let me know in comments or via email! Good luck in the final weeks of Round 1 applications!