Now more than ever before, reaching out to students and alumni of your top-choice programs is important. On hold are the days of visiting campus to get to know the culture and community of a program. The upside is that schools have invested a lot of effort to ensure a lot of information is available online. Frankly, this levels the playing field for applicants who could not have traveled 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 ideas 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. Have your elevator pitch ready so that you can succinctly talk 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 classmate with experience that might relate to your goals.
2. Do research.
Make sure you know what information is available online so that you ask deeper questions. 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. Don’t ask about steps in the admissions process that you can easily find out for 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 that you can then compare the answers to help you identify which programs are right for you. The goal is for your questions to guide your conversation, not make this an interview. Consider these examples: “What stands out to you about the school’s culture?” and “Tell me about the 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.
Now that all admissions events are 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 but rather finding 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. Kellogg, for example, offers to set up applicants with a student for a coffee chat, and 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 they are a great first step to making a connection with a school. Often, an ambassador can connect you with a student who might be following a similar path or involved in a particular experiential learning opportunity or club, which is why being prepared to discuss your goals is important. Duke and 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. Booth lists members in its student-led groups section, and Columbia lists contact information along with its student groups. Ask to speak with a fellow student who shares your career interests.
7. 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 you are interested in. Leverage your undergrad alumni database to find alumni who are attending or have attended schools of interest to you.
8. Search via LinkedIn.
LinkedIn can be a powerful search tool. However, if you reach out to people, don’t just send the automated message to connect; explain why you are hoping to leverage an individual’s time. A brief message is sufficient to share why you are reaching out.
9. Send a thank you!
Although it’s just the right thing to do, people get busy and may forget they have offered some help to you. A kindly worded thank you can be a subtle reminder to someone to make that next introduction.