When it comes to MBA fairs put on by the likes of QS World MBA Tour, Access, Center Court, Forte, and P&Q, it’s not unusual for applicants to switch quickly into kid-in-a-candy-store mode.
MBA fairs are an embarrassment of riches for resourceful applicants. But how do you get the most out of these events without getting option paralysis?
For starters, it helps to understand what fairs offer applicants and what they don’t.
“Each fair has an array of different offerings,” starts Hillary Schubach. “Some of them offer one-on-one opportunities to meet with representatives and/or alumni, and discussions related to the admissions process.
“The earlier that somebody can learn what the process involves but also what characteristics matter most to these programs, the earlier somebody can begin strengthening their candidacy.”
In addition, fairs “can be helpful as introductions to the different programs but are not really designed to facilitate in-depth connections,” believes Karen Marks of North Star Admissions.
There’s a host of “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to MBA fairs. Karen advises attendees to “be polite, ask appropriate questions, and don't monopolize the representative.”
“Don’t be an air hog,” echoes Accepted’s Linda Abraham, “especially if there are other people waiting to speak to the rep.”
Doing your homework beforehand is essential. You must be able to demonstrate that you’ve “thought a little bit about your goals, that you’re prepared for business school, that you’re specifically interested in this school, that you’ve spent some time researching it, and you’re not going to waste their time,” adds Linda.
“Don’t say, ‘This is my GMAT and my GPA and x years of work experience— can I get in?’ she elaborates, “but ask them, ‘I am interested in x, y, and z. I know you have this program that supports my goal. Can you tell me a little more about it?’”
“Please don't ask [admissions officers] why you should consider their school,” concurs Karen, “how to get in, or if you should re-take the GMAT. As a former Tuck admissions officer, it's easier to make a bad impression than you might think.”
Impressions are crucial: “Dress the part, bring a resume, and be professional,” advises Michelle Miller of Aringo.
“Every single touch point is an opportunity to make a positive impression,” says Hillary, “admissions representatives do seem to have an amazing knack for remembering people from the briefest Q&A interactions.”
Bear in mind though, it is the job of the people to whom you’re speaking to do everything they can to sway you towards their school. Be wary of sales tactics.
“Many of the reps are essentially recruiters,” confirms Michelle, “b-schools value their high application rates and low admission rates. I still cringe when I talk to the candidate with a 500 GMAT who was told at a fair to ‘go ahead and apply and see.’
Which brings us to a wonderful nugget of wisdom from Paul Bodine of Paul Bodine Consulting/Admitify: curb your ambition.
“Don't treat [fairs] as a schmoozing contest (the person with most business cards collected wins),” he says, “but as an enjoyable social and learning event where you are bound to meet a lot of folks who share your drive, intelligence, and ambition.”
“Attending these panels and listening to admissions officers speak, at a minimum, gives you exposure to what different types of curricula, focus areas, teaching methods, and cultures are out there,” says Hillary.
“It could perhaps catalyze a new search that would enable somebody to focus on CleanTech, for example.”
So, there it is, you just finished a whirlwind weekend at a QS World MBA Tour event—how should you follow up after it?
“If you do have time to have a real conversation with a representative,” says Linda, “ask them for their business card and send them an e-mail thanking them for the time and the insight that they shared. If you have an additional question, be considerate and don’t write them a book.”