While visiting prospective business schools isn’t necessary, seeing a school in person can definitely help you get a better feel for the program’s culture. At some schools (often smaller ones), expressing your interest via a campus visit might marginally increase your chances of admission. And visiting the campus of any business school will almost certainly help improve your application: you’ll gain knowledge about the specific program to draw from when answering the inevitable essay question: “Why Business School X?”
If you don’t have the time or money to visit business schools, don’t worry too much about it — it’s still possible to get a good sense of business schools from their websites and/or talking to alums and current students.
If you have the time, funds, and inclination to visit b-school campuses, however, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1) Visit while school is in session.
Sure, seeing a b-school campus in person will give you some sense of the school’s setting and size. But the most important part of your campus visit involves meeting people: talking to students and professors, sitting in on classes, and observing the general routine of the students. You won’t be able to do any of these things if you visit the campus during school breaks. If the schools you’re interested in don’t have summer sessions, then your best bet is probably to wait until the fall.
If you’re set on visiting campus, but can only make it during school breaks, then by all means make the trek — but realize that you won’t necessarily be getting a complete picture of the school. See if you can talk to an alumni or current student in your area to supplement your visit.
2) Supplement the official info session with your own “research.”
You should definitely take advantage of any information sessions, class meetings, or student meetings facilitated by the admissions office on your visit (check out the school’s website to see what’s available). However, be sure to conduct your own research too. The students affiliated with the admissions office are likely some of the most satisfied, positive students at the school — which doesn’t mean that they won’t be honest about their experiences, but might mean that they’re not the best people to talk to if you’re looking for a diversity of perspectives.
If you have any friends, acquaintances, or former co-workers who now attend the business school you’re looking at, be sure to get in touch with them ahead of time to talk to them about their experiences. Don’t know anyone at the school? Strike up a conversation with students at one of the school’s social hubs (the dining hall, a student lounge… ). If you’re interested in a certain area of business — say, luxury marketing — you might ask the admissions office to put you in touch with students who head up the school’s Luxury Marketing club.
3) Sit in on a class.
This one might not always be possible, but make sure you take advantage of the opportunity if it’s available to you. Ask the admissions office for more information on arranging class visits. If you are able to sit in on a class, be sure to strike up conversations with the other students and even the professor if possible. If the school has a policy against class visitors at certain times of the year, see if you can set up a meeting with a professor instead.
4) Be polite.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we’ll say it anyway: be courteous to everyone you encounter on your campus visit. Not only is it the right thing to do, but being pushy or rude to the admissions office staff or tour guide certainly won’t help your chances of admission.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask “soft” questions.
Questions about quality of life, housing, culture, and social activities are just as important as those about classes and job placement statistics. You’re considering spending two years of your life in this place: you want to make sure that it will be fulfilling and suitable to your lifestyle on more than just a professional level. If you’re married with kids, seek out a student in a similar situation to answer your questions about the program’s family-friendly factor; same goes if you’re single and want to make sure that they’ll be enough bar nights to fill your social calendar!
5) Explore the entire campus and surrounding areas.
In addition to taking a tour of the b-school campus, be sure to get a broader look at the school and the surrounding area. Again — you could be spending two full years of your life at this place! Though you’ll definitely be in the b-school building(s) a lot, chances are that you’ll also spend your time elsewhere. Ask a current student to recommend somewhere off-campus to grab dinner so that you can check out the surrounding area, and be sure to investigate public transportation options if that’s important to you. Ask questions about living arrangements; if there’s student housing, see if you can take a tour of a typical apartment. Like getting outdoors? Ask about nearby hiking trails, beaches, or parks and swing by for a visit if possible.
The bottom line: Like many things in life, business school campus visits are what you make of them. Don’t be pushy, but take advantage of every opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the school; it’ll help you when writing your applications and if you get in, it’ll help you decide whether it’s really the right school for you.