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Is a campus visit worthwhile?

In our estimation, about 20% of applicants to leading MBA programs visit the campus a few years or a few months prior to completing their admission process.

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There are several advantages to a campus visit: It allows you to form an impression intimately and directly with the school and may assist you in reaching a decision about the suitability of the specific school to your personality and goals. It’s an excellent opportunity to assess the character of the students and the atmosphere at the university, to learn more about the world of top MBA programs and future employment opportunities, and to ascertain whether you “connect” to the place and feel “at home”.

In addition, you get the chance make a stronger impression about your interest in the school – the visit itself indicates motivation and interest in the school, and the experiences you gain can be used later (in essays or interviews) to strengthen this impression.

Although a number of schools declare that a campus visit won’t have any impact on the applicant’s candidacy or admission chances, other schools are likely to view such visit as an indication of seriousness and commitment on the part of the applicant. A visit may reinforce the impression that the candidate views the school as his or her first choice, especially if he or she doesn’t live in the U.S. and has made a special effort to visit the campus. For example, the head of the Admissions Committee at Stern said, “I always advise people who are applying to Stern to spend the time and money visiting New York to interview because it indicates a seriousness of purpose.” Duke also encourages campus visits and last October offered a significant discount in application fees to candidates who scheduled such visits.

During the visit you will likely form acquaintances/develop contacts among the students and possibly even key people (such as university officials) who could assist you in the admissions process. Leaving a good impression on students and faculty during your visit is likely to contribute to your candidacy.

The disadvantages of a campus visit include the cost of the trip (flights and hotels) and time involved. A campus visit usually takes from a couple of days to a week and typically requires vacation from work (assuming you’re employed at the time). So if within the framework of your job or a vacation you are planning to visit the target country, even if it’s a couple of years before you submit your application, it can be an excellent opportunity to visit the campus.

In addition, if a visit comes at the expense of the time you would be spending on your application materials (essays, recommendations), it could hurt the quality of your application. Therefore, it is preferable to visit campus several months (or longer) before submitting your application. According to past experience, the damage caused by a visit during the two months before submitting the application may be greater than its benefits because of the time lost in preparing the application.

A visit also has the danger of negative exposure: If during your visit you make a bad impression on a student or a faculty member, it could hurt your admission chances. Therefore, it’s important to prepare for your visit. It is better not to visit if you anticipate that the impression you leave in personal conversations will be significantly weaker than the impression made by your essays, recommendations, and resume (in such cases you should limit your verbal interactions to your application interview).

Some of the applicants schedule their visits for the time they are invited for an interview. In the event you are invited for an interview (after you have submitted your application) and you are given the choice of having it over the phone or face-to-face on campus, keep in mind that face-to-face inteviews are usually more effective and you can take advantage of the trip to visit various campuses. For example, Gil Levi, the Academic Director of ARINGO, chose to have his interview for Harvard in person (Harvard usually offers a telephone option as well) and took advantage of the trip to visit the Harvard and Wharton campuses. However, if you feel that you will be more impressive over the phone, it’s probably a good idea to pass on the face-to-face interview and interview by phone instead.

  • Make sure the admission committee knows that you visited the campus! You can do this in several ways such as mentioning it in your essays or during your interview, signing up for an organized campus tour, or by talking to as many people as you can during your visit.
  • Try to make a positive impression in every interaction – the people you meet and the connections you make are likely to help you in the admission process. In the event that your spouse is joining you during your studies, consider the option of bringing him/her along for the visit. In the event that you are able to meet with members of the admission committee, leave the best impression you possibly can, be polite, and try to be memorable.
  • Remember that school representatives are likely to function like “salespeople” and consider their words accordingly! They can provide you with formal, official information, but will usually try to leave the best possible impression of the school. Therefore, try to also speak with other people, such as students, lecturers and alumni.
  • Pay special attention to students who have similar backgrounds and goals to yours. This will likely help in terms of information as well as establishing relationships.
  • Before your visit, make sure you have accurate directions to the school. If you have a car, it is advisable to identify parking issues in advance in order to avoid any unforeseen difficulties – at certain schools your chances of finding parking after a certain hour are lessened. Take into account that parking fees are likely to be high (but certain schools offer free parking to visitors so check in advance).
  • Try to find accommodations as close as possible to campus. Classes probably start early and getting to campus from far away may not be easy, especially if this is your first visit there. Staying close by can also help you form an impression of living close to campus. You may also be able to arrange a stay with another student.

In order to visit the campus at an effective time, we suggest that you check the academic calendar to ensure that the visit will coincide with classes and not vacation (when the school is closed, therefore making it impossible to form a complete impression) or test periods (when everyone is busy and no one will have time to talk to you). It is advisable to visit during the height of the semester and usually preferable to visit in the middle of the week (not the weekend) when the campus is active. If you visit during a semester break, most of the students and some of the faculty won’t be around. The active period is usually from the middle/end of September until the beginning/middle of December, and from the beginning/middle of January until the middle of May (you should verify exact dates with the school – the dates are likely to change from program to program and from year to year).

If you intend to submit your application between August and January, it’s important that you visit the school beforehand in order to gather information and concentrate on preparing your application. Based on past experience, a visit to campus in the months closely preceding the submission of your application is likely to come at the expense of the quality of your application. In such cases, the advantage of a campus visit is likely to be much smaller than the damage caused to your candidacy.

A campus visit can also take place several years before you apply. In our estimation, visiting campus well in advance may be more valuable than visiting close to your application deadline:

A visit to campus well in advance of applying can have several advantages. One of them is the opportunity to familiarize yourself with various schools, the different opportunities, and the world of leading MBA programs and the application process. This will likely help you reach the best decision for the coming years (career development, recommenders, networks), and to identify which schools interest you the most. Another advantage is the ability to build long-term connections with students and possibly even with the faculty members you will meet during your visit. These connections can help you in the future to strengthen your candidacy as the same people you met on campus can send support emails to the admission committee after you submit your application. Long-term connections like these will allow such students to develop and cement the relationship with you, something which is certain to be reflected in the content of the support email and increase its effectiveness. In addition, an early visit is likely to save you time and money if you can combine it with other travel plans from work or within the framework of a vacation.

Other advantages of an early visit to campus are likely to manifest themselves in preparing your application: the fact that the visit takes place a long time before the application is submitted is likely to help you focus on preparing your application as the submission deadline approaches. Candidates who devote time to a campus visit a few weeks or months before submitting their application are sometimes sorry they didn’t visit earlier for two main reasons: A) “I could have spent more time on my application had I visited earlier.” And B) “The visit caused me to change things in my application that I had already prepared,”; “The visit made me understand too late that school X is exactly for me/not for me.” When you write your essays, you can point out that you visited school X years ago. The fact that you visited so early and stayed focused on the school is sure to win you “points”.

Notwithstanding, a visit to the school well in advance has some disadvantages. In the event that you don’t maintain, strengthen and develop the connections you made during your visit, the benefits of the visit will lessen. In addition, an early visit may take place at a stage where your knowledge of the world of leading MBA programs is minimal. In such case, there is a danger that you will say things that might sound “dumb” or “out of context”. You can close that gap with a little research and a preliminary chat with an alumnus/student. Likewise, insufficient knowledge may prompt you to visit schools that you will find irrelevant in the future (i.e. “Had I waited, I could have saved the visit.”) However, keep in mind that a visit will likely help you decide which schools are relevant for you… In addition, you need to take into account that some of the information you pick up during your visit will be outdated after a year or two.

  • Find out, on the schools’ website, information about special events taking place on campus for candidates interested in the program. It’s wise to schedule your visit in a way that enables you to participate in these events. For example, HBS offers interested potential candidates the opportunity to plan a classroom visit, a meeting with the admission committee, an organized campus tour given by students and lunch with students. Columbia offers visiting candidates the opportunity to form an opinion by shadowing students in the program they wish to attend for an entire day. These students answer questions, take visitors on a tour of the campus and take them to class. In any event, it is advisable to register before the visit and confirm the dates of such activities.
  • Try to make contacts before the visit! Schedule meetings with people who share your interests before your arrival.
  • Learn as much as you can about the school before the visit – that way you will avoid wasting valuable time and avoid seeming unprepared by asking questions about subjects covered on the school’s website, for example.
  • Invest thought in the type of information you wish to learn during the visit – whether it concerns general subjects like the nightlife at the school or specific questions about a particular course, the visit will be more effective if you determine ahead of time what you want to accomplish.
  • You can contact clubs or groups of students in order to organize a meeting with them to get an additional viewpoint of the school (but in any case, you should make sure the admission committee is aware of your visit).
  • Prepare an organized list of questions (see below).
  • Aside from the questions that you plan to ask, be prepared to be asked questions yourself and prepare good answers. Examples of questions you might be asked by the admission office include: “What is your career plan?”; “What attracts you to our school?”
  • In order to cut costs, consider visiting several schools that are in proximity to each other. If possible, you can, of course, stay with friends who live in the area
  • Sign up for an official tour – it’s a great way to get to know the school initially and acquire basic information about it. However, remember that the tour guide’s job is to “market” the school. If you’re short on time and “lukewarm” about the school, consider skipping the official tour.
  • Try to meet with a member of the admission office if this is possible – most schools will let you informally talk with a representative for a few minutes. It’s usually preferable to schedule a conversation like this ahead of time and not to “pop over” to the admission office during the visit. During your conversation with the admission office representative, express your interest in the school, try to make as good an impression as you can, and make sure that your questions and comments reflect your knowledge of the school, intelligence and ease – even though it’s an informal discussion, the representative you met with is likely to make notes for himself or herself after the meeting!
  • Schedule a meeting at the Financial Aid Office if relevant.
  • Try to attend a class – If you have time, attend several classes. Try to do this without organizing it with the school – they want to expose you to the best lecturers while you want to form an impression of the “average” ones. The best way to do this is to ask students to recommend such lecturers and then ask for their permission to attend the class. In most cases, the lecturer will be happy to comply. At the end of the class, you can try to converse with him/her.
  • Try to speak with the widest possible variety of people!
  • Try to leave as positive an impression as possible in every single meeting and with every person at the school, even in spontaneous unofficial discussions with students, because they may share their impressions of you with the admission office.
  • If you are planning to visit several schools, try to schedule it so that your preferred school is not the first one you visit. After the first visit, you will most likely know how to better focus on the subjects that are important to you, and you will therefore get more out of subsequent school visits.
  • Past experience shows that it is advisable to dedicate at least one separate day for each school, and possibly even two days.
  • Try to avoid a visit during test periods. Busy and stressed students will have less time and inclination to cooperate with you.
  • Dress accordingly.
  • During the visit, ask yourself:
    • Do the students look pleased or gloomy?
    • Is there any interaction between lecturers and students outside the classroom (in the cafeteria, halls, etc.)?
    • How are the libraries and computer labs? Are they easy to use? Do a good portion of the students fully utilize them?
    • Are there a variety of available entertainment venues that suit your taste (theater, pubs, restaurants, etc.)?
  • Questions worth asking people you meet:
    • What does a typical day look like for a student at that school?
    • What don’t you like about the school? What would you change about the school?
    • How often do you interact with the professors outside the classroom?
    • What are the school’s strong/weak areas?
    • How competitive are the students?
    • What are the strong points of the school in comparison to other schools?
    • What other schools did you consider? Why did you choose this school? Would you make the same choice again?
    • What role does career services really play in helping find jobs?
    • Have you developed relationships with alumni during your time here?
    • What types of extra-curricular activities do the students like? How would you describe the school’s social scene? At Dartmouth College, for example, you’ll learn that many students play ice hockey…
  • Avoid questioning people only about the school’s weak points. It’s an important subject, but not the only one – try to present a positive attitude and be friendly and polite.
  • Avoid asking questions whose answers appear very prominently on the program’s website.
  • Of course, it’s worthwhile to prepare specific questions about subjects that are of special interest to you.
  • Consider keeping a written record of your experiences and impressions – finish writing everything down before you visit the next school in order to avoid confusion.
  • Consider writing the names and positions of the people you meet. Verify the correct spelling of their names – if you aren’t sure, you can contact the school.
  • Consider sending thank-you notes to/follow up with key people you met – students, school representatives, lecturers, etc. in order to continue to build the relationship.
  • When you mention experiences from your visit in an essay, try to provide specific and personal examples as much as possible – instead of writing “I really enjoyed the finance class”, it’s better to quote a comment made by one of the students regarding the atmosphere at the school, for example.
  • Some of the schools allow you to include visual information in your application. If you took photographs during your visit, consider including them in your application in order to send the message about your visit to campus in the best possible way. One picture could be worth 1,000 words!

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