When you’re shopping around for an MBA, the internet can be your best friend. You can explore MBA rankings online, browse dozens of courses from your smartphone, and read loads of great articles about the application process.
But, as everybody knows, online shopping has its drawbacks.
Just like shopping for a pair of jeans online, it’s often hard to tell from a website what an MBA program is like in real life. Will it be a good fit? How well is it designed? Will it stand the test of time?
If you don’t get a handle on the reality of an MBA program before you invest in it, you may not find out the answers to these questions until it’s too late—and, unlike a pair of ill-fitting jeans, it’s very difficult to shove a business school to the back of your closet, shrug off the wasted investment, and forget about it until your next spring clean.
Luckily, there is an option that offers you an insight into all the nooks and crannies the internet can’t expose—BusinessBecause caught up with admissions experts, who reveal everything you need to know about MBA tours.
First off—what is an MBA tour?
MBA tours are events held around the world that allow candidates to get to know schools in person before they commit to an application.
There are three big MBA tours that take place around the globe every year: the QS World MBA Tour, which runs events in over 85 cities across 50 countries; Access MBA; and The MBA Tour.
According to Paras Fatnani, global marketing and communications director at QS, the QS World MBA Tour aims to be “a one-stop platform for candidates to be able to meet the decision-makers [at top schools] face-to-face, and decide what the culture of the school is as well.”
As well as the usual fair format, The QS World MBA Tour also features open-ended sessions including Q&As with admissions experts.
“It’s not just about how you get into a program, but why you should get into a program—what happens after,” Paras explains.
Paras believes that tours have value for candidates at any stage in their school search, from consideration to application.
They focus on the pre-MBA journey as a whole, he says, helping students identify the right path for them: Do they need to do an MBA do achieve their goals? Is an MBA the right program for them? Or should they opt to stay in employment for longer before revisiting the idea at a later date?
Why should I go to an MBA tour?
“The biggest factor that I think will never change is the face-to-face interaction,” Paras says. “Many times, it’s a key part of how [a candidate] makes a decision.”
Gareth Howells, executive director of MBA, MiF, and early career programs at London Business School (LBS), agrees.
“We get thousands and thousands of applications, and we’re only looking to select the best 460 students a year,” he explains. “It’s really important that we get to know them and that they get to know us.
“MBA tours are a great way for candidates to get to know us better, and for us to get to know them better, so that we can ensure the best fit between the business school and the candidate.”
How should I prepare?
MBA admissions consultant Barbara Coward, who has worked at a number of MBA tours with schools in the past, emphasizes that preparation is everything when it comes to getting the most out of these events.
“[Candidates] should make sure that they bring their resumé with them, and if possible a business card,” she advises.
“I would also recommend that they start preparing an elevator pitch.” A five-to-10-minute speech will suffice, covering who you are, and why you’re doing an MBA. Make sure it’s something memorable to make a lasting human connection.
But, the number one thing that both Barbara and Paras recommend doing before you go to an MBA tour is researching the schools.
“The lists of schools [attending] are published on the website at least two weeks before the event,” Paras says. “Go through that and understand which programs the schools are offering.”
A consistent downfall for candidates, that leaves a lasting poor impression, is that they ask a plethora of questions about scholarships, Paras says. “All of that information is available online!”
So, applicants, make sure you arrive prepared, so you can spend your time probing the questions you wouldn’t find the answers to online.
Questions about the character of the business school are the best to go for, Barbara explains.
“Ask what the school’s strengths are, what it’s best known for,” she says. “You could ask about the career outcomes of graduates, [and] about the current strengths of the program.”
Some MBA Tour DOs and DON’Ts
DO present yourself professionally.
“Start off by being professionally dressed,” Paras says. “If you want to go to an MBA program, you’re talking business—so start with the attire.”
For Barbara, it’s just as important to make sure you have a friendly demeanor.
“The best thing is to practise how you come across,” she says. “Even role play before you go to an MBA fair. Practise introducing yourself and making that first impression!”
DON’T be arrogant.
“The worst thing, I would say, is to be rude,” Barbara says. “Taking up a lot of time talking about yourself, holding up the line. Be aware of other people and be considerate.
“Admissions officers are people too—they’ve travelled, it takes a lot of time and work to do a fair—so thank them for coming all the way out to your city!”
DO take the time to experience the whole event.
“I would walk around a little first,” Barbara recommends. “Too often, candidates want to run straight to their target schools, with the result that they spend most of the event in long lines instead of making the most of the resources on offer.”
Paras agrees—he says that by being too focused on a particular school, candidates can miss out on other opportunities. Candidates should prepare questions for their top-priority schools, but also come armed with generic questions to ask others they may not have heard of.
“This happens very often,” he says. “[Candidates] had thought that they wanted to meet one school for one program, they then discover five others at the fair and choose one of those five instead!”
According to Paras, making the most of the opportunities on offer at an MBA event is also about taking the time to experience everything. Don’t focus on the fair alone!
“When you have generic questions, attend the presentations and panels,” Paras advises. “More often than not, your large-perspective questions will be answered there, and then the fairs are more to go and meet and have conversations with schools.”
Finally, DON’T underestimate the alumni.
Schools' alumni are often in attendance along with admissions teams, and all three of our experts agree that this can be an invaluable resource for candidates.
“On these tours we make sure that we can connect candidates [to] a school [through] our alumni and our students—they’re our best ambassadors,” confirms Gareth from LBS. “Often, candidates want to talk to somebody who had a similar background to them, who made a similar transition, and is now working at companies that they aspire to work in.”
However, Barbara cautions candidates against being too informal with the alumni. Though they may not necessarily be on a school’s payroll, their opinions will be important to decision-makers—don’t let your good behavior slip just because they won’t be scrutinizing your resumé!
Are there any tips or questions you think we’ve missed? Post your suggestions in the comments below.