That’s a question that admissions consultants at The MBA Exchange have been asked many times over the past two decades. And our answer is always the same:
Only if you REALLY want to be admitted!
This is an aspect of the MBA application process that adcoms consistently and understandably downplay. After all, the time and money required just to apply are already beyond the reach of many potential applicants. Furthermore, the travel cost of a campus visit represents an unfair burden for individuals living far from the school. And international applicants must also deal with tourist-visa requirements. So, to keep the “playing field level” for everyone, admissions staff cannot convey that those who come to the campus will gain any edge from doing so.
However, before accepting the adcoms’ neutrality as an excuse to stay home, serious applicants who have the means and resources should consider the following reasons why a visit to their dream business school can be tremendously valuable:
• Experience the campus culture first hand.
One of the great intangibles that differentiate MBA programs is the way students, faculty and administrator interact. Is it casual, warm and friendly? Or formal, stiff and strictly professional?
• Explore the surrounding community.
The b-school experience doesn’t end at the campus gate. It’s important to figure out if the town is too small or the city is too big for your tastes, and whether local residents and merchants open and friendly.
• Check out possible options for housing.
Typically, there’s a wide selection of apartments and rental houses to consider. You can beat the crowd by vetting your favorites and meeting landlords in advance. Especially important if you have a partner.
• Observe an MBA classroom in action.
There’s no substitution for sitting among real students, watching a real professor, and experiencing the dynamics of a real class. What’s the energy level? How interactive is the discussion?
• Initiate valuable relationships.
If you’re targeting a two-year MBA program, the current first-year students will be there as second-years when you enroll. Their advice and guidance now can save you mistakes and disappointments later.
• Capture imagery for essays and interviews.
Describing the sights and sounds you absorb, places you walk, and people you meet will enrich, elevate and expand your written and verbal explanations of why this is “the best and only school” for you.
• Show your confidence and commitment.
Whether they admit it or not, most b-schools track and consider the extra efforts of their applicants to engage directly with the program. This includes emails, calls, info sessions, and – yes – campus visits.
Timing makes a difference.
So, if you’re now convinced that traveling to the school is important, when is the best time to do so before you apply. If you’re a Round 1 applicant, that means March/April. For Round 2 applicants, aim for mid-October to mid-November. Those windows will give you maximum exposure to those who need to meet and the lowest risk of weather-related challenges. In every case, however, check the school’s academic calendar in advance to make sure that classes are in session on the days you plan to be there.
But what if I can’t visit the campus?
Sometimes it’s just not possible. But don’t give up on your plans to apply solely because you can’t travel to the school. There are other ways (e.g., attending a local or regional information session) to learn about an MBA program and convey your knowledge, passion and commitment. But just like a campus visit, these tactics require thought and time in order to get the full benefit. That’s why we help our clients plan and initiate a truly comprehensive campaign far in advance of actually producing applications.
Getting admitted to top MBA programs is a rigorous process that demands many key steps. One step that you should consider — early and seriously — is how a well-planned campus visit could increase your ultimate chances for admission success! Is a visit “necessary”? No. But can it be valuable? Absolutely.