Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MBA fair - the other side of the booth

Last week I attended the QS MBA Fair here in DC. I had been to a couple of these events before, back when I was still doing my research on different MBA programs out there. This time, however, was a little different. IMD invited me to help man their booth and answer questions from prospective applicants, since I have just gone through the admissions process myself. Exciting!

In my opinion, the MBA tour is a must for anyone interested in business school.

It was a lot of fun to be on the other side of the booth. Once again, I was amazed by the diversity of candidates that IMD attracts. Even in a location-specific event like this one, people who stopped by were from several different countries, had worked or lived all over the world, and had an impressive variety of backgrounds and work experience. I got to chat with a lot of interesting people, who I truly hope will consider IMD for their MBAs.

Not long after the fair began, I was surprised by an invitation from a Wharton alum to join a Q&A session as a panelist. A panelist! I haven't even started by MBA yet!

Of course, I was delighted to participate. I joined the Wharton alum as well as a Stanford GSB alum, we were seated in front of maybe 100 people and shared our perspective on several different aspects of the MBA experience: deciding on the right school, the application process, financing the MBA, our goals and motivations etc. I thought it was fantastic that they sought out a participant from IMD for this event, to sit side by side with alums from other elite schools such as Wharton and Stanford. I also felt a lot of pride in representing IMD, and I hope I didn't disappoint! It was great to have many of the panel attendees come down to the IMD booth to learn more about the school afterwards.

All in all it was a fun event and an awesome chance to see the MBA admissions process from a different angle. I thought I would share some of my observations and advice about how to make the most of the MBA fair:

  • Keep in mind who you are speaking to

    Often times there will be admissions officers as well as alumni at a school's booth (or even freshly admitted students!). The admissions officers will obviously be the most knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the program. They are your best resource to ask about financial aid, GMAT requirements, questions about the consulting projects/internships, career services etc. Making a good impression is always recommended, but I personally don't think you need to be too nervous or treat the conversation with the admissions officers like an interview.

    Alumni and students are the ones who can tell you about the experience itself. They will tell you about the workload, the school culture, their likes and dislikes. You may want to ask them things like what they enjoyed or didn't enjoy about the experience, what they wish they knew when they were applying, what made them decide to go to that school, what their goals were and how the school helped them achieve them. Odds are that most students will be like me, and will love talking about their experience, so they will be happy to keep in touch and help you out how they can.

  • Ask a lot of questions

    Sounds like common sense, but remember, the MBA fair is one of very few face-to-face encounters you will have with representatives of the schools you're interested in.

    If you are just starting out your search, the fair is a good place to start narrowing down which schools could be a good fit. It makes sense to share what your general goals are, and ask for feedback about how to boost your chances. This is a good opportunity to ask about GMAT advice, and any other tips that will help you fill any gaps in your profile by the time you are ready to apply. Since it's early in your search, you have time to address or mitigate those weaknesses.

    If you are farther along in the process, the MBA fair is a great place for you to get a deeper understanding of your preferred schools. You're not expected to know everything about every school - it is an informational event after all - but knowing a little bit about your top choices will help you really start discovering what makes that school unique. It's useful to know basic things like the class size, program length, and some specifics about the program structure. This way you can ask more targeted questions about the school's culture and the real day-to-day life of a student in that school.

  • Follow up

    Make sure you collect business cards of the reps from the schools you are really interested in, and follow up the next day. A short "thank-you" e-mail saying you enjoyed learning more about the school does the trick. It communicates that you are a serious candidate and makes a good impression.

    Also, don't be afraid to reach out to alumni, and ask for advice during the application/interview process. They will be your best source of information about a school and like I said earlier, if they are like me they will most likely be very eager to help. Consider also that the alumni will also be your network should you choose to go to that school - would you rather be in a school with enthusiastic, helpful alums, or one with unresponsive, apathetic ones?

  • Get there early, and attend the panels

    When I went to the MBA fairs as a potential applicant in the past, I usually showed up about a little after the start time, and never really bothered with the panel discussions.

    After this experience, I can tell you showing up early (even before the fair begins), can be very helpful. The booths of the popular schools tend to get swarmed by candidates, and it can be hard to engage in a one-on-one conversation. Being one of the first to arrive gives you a much better chance of speaking with the representatives directly, without feeling like you have to compete with twenty other people to get your questions in.

    Also, after participating in one, I really wish I had taken advantage of the panels in the past. There was a lot of great insight and advice from the panelists and alums. They brought some good perspective on what kinds of questions you should be asking yourself, as you consider making the investment of going to business school.

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