Now more than ever, reaching out to students and alumni of your top-choice programs is important. The days of visiting campus to get to know the culture and community of a program are still on hold. However, the upside is that schools have invested a lot of effort to make a wealth of information available online. Frankly, this levels the playing field for applicants who could not have traveled to visit schools in person because of work or cost barriers. The best way to truly get to know a school is to talk with current students and alumni.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Be prepared.
Any time you reach out to someone to gain knowledge, make sure you are as efficient with their time as possible. Although you can have more open-ended conversations with good friends and colleagues about their MBA experiences, it is important to have thought through why you want to attend business school and what your career goals are before you have conversations with someone new. Have your elevator pitch ready so that you can succinctly talk to students or alumni about your goals for an MBA. The more specific you can be about what you are trying to accomplish with an MBA, the more helpful they can be with directing you to a resource or classmate with experience that might relate to your goals.
2. Do research.
Make sure you are familiar with the school information that is available online so you can ask deeper questions of students and alumni. Questions about experiences, culture, and community can help you get to know a program on a deeper level and can be asked of someone from any industry. For example, take the time to understand what is going on within a specific club so you can think about what you could add or how you could get involved. On the other hand, don’t ask about steps in the admissions process that you can research yourself.
3. Create a list of questions.
Think about what you want to know ahead of time. It’s nice to have a common list of questions to ask across schools so you can easily compare their answers to help you identify which programs are right for you. The goal is to have your questions guide your conversation—not to make this an interview. Consider these examples: “What stands out to you about the school’s culture?” and “Tell me about your interactions within the classroom.” Stay away from one-word or yes/no questions such as “What is your favorite class?” and “Do you think I can get in there?”
4. Attend student or admissions chats.
Since most admissions events are still virtual, it is important to connect virtually with a school at least three times. This doesn’t mean sitting in on the same webinar three times—you should find different ways to connect with a school. Maybe start with a general webinar and then attend a student or admissions chat where you can connect within a small group. It can be nice to hear other students’ questions as well. Northwestern Kellogg, for example, offers to set up applicants with a student for a Virtual Coffee Chat, and Berkeley Haas offers an Admissions Chat Q&A. Make sure you are on the mailing list for the schools of interest to you because these slots can go fast!
5. Reach out to admissions ambassadors.
These students have volunteered to be ambassadors for the school, and reaching out to them is a great first step in making a connection with a school. Often, an ambassador can connect you with a student who is following a similar path or involved in a particular experiential learning opportunity or club. This is another reason why being prepared to discuss your goals is important. Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross both appoint student ambassadors to engage with applicants.
6. Reach out to students who have a common interest.
Do you love to hike? Are you passionate about playing soccer or participating in “hackathons”? Find a club that you would have a personal interest in joining and reach out to one of its members. Often, it is easier to connect with students across a shared interest. Chicago Booth lists club members in its student-led groups section, and Columbia offers different ways to connect with student groups through its club site.
7. Search via LinkedIn.
LinkedIn can be a powerful search tool. Search the school you are researching along with an industry or company name. This can give you a list of connections to contact. When you reach out to people, don’t just send the automated message to connect; send a brief message to explain why you are hoping to leverage an individual’s time.
8. Leverage your undergrad alumni network.
Approach the process of learning about schools through a student the same way you would conduct informational interviews about a new career path. Leverage your undergrad alumni database to find graduates who are attending or have attended schools of interest to you or are following a similar career path. You could start with LinkedIn to find others from your school and then reach out.
9. Send a thank you!
In addition to being the right thing to do, a kindly worded thank you may be a subtle reminder to someone to make that next introduction.
If you have questions about the MBA application process, please reach out to us for a free consultation!