You've nailed the GMAT, narrowed down your list of target schools and are brainstorming essay topics. Then it occurs to you that you haven't actually visited the campus you're hoping to call home for the next few years.
Visiting campuses is important because it lets the admissions committee know that you are serious about attending. But how do you go about planning these visits? And how should you make the most of your time there?
Visit when school is in session
It's a huge mistake to simply show up to a school in the middle of the summer, walk around the quiet halls and courtyards aimlessly, and deem your visit successful.
Engaging with students, faculty and admissions officers is important, and can only be done when they are actually on campus.
An empty campus won't expose you to the buzz that MBA communities are known for. It won't give you the enthusiasm and excitement that will shine through in your essays and interviews (which will make you a favorable applicant).
Talk to current students
Chances are that you know a few people from your company who are at the business schools you want to attend. Call them up and ask if you can stay with them for a few days. Immerse yourself in their world - as if you were one of their classmates.
Understand what their study habits are, what they do for fun, what their career aspirations are, and how they interact with their fellow students. Ask how they like their classes, professors, career services office, and campus amenities.
If you don't click with any of the people you meet, you may not be the best fit for the program.
Speak with an admissions officer and have specific questions in mind
Several schools hold "office hours" with admissions officers, where you can have one-on-one chats with the gatekeepers. These are most useful, however, when you come prepared with reasonable questions.
Examples of questions to ask are: "Is it better to get a recommendation from my direct boss or from my company's CEO?" or "Will taking an additional Economics class this summer help me be successful in the program?"
An example of a question not to ask is: "Here are my GMAT scores and GPA – will I get in?"
Visit a class or two, but choose wisely
Meeting faculty members and attending their classes is, of course, a great way to get a strong feel for the school. However, be aware of the nature of the class you decide to attend.
For instance, a core statistics or accounting class may provide insight into a professor's lecture style and it may allow you to flex your quantitative muscles, but it may not allow you to hear student perspectives or learn from the experiences they've had in their careers thus far.
Walk around the surrounding neighborhood
Get familiar with the area around the campus. Is it suburban, urban, or rural? What kind of restaurants and shops are nearby? How much diversity is there? Is the area walk-able or do you need a car? What is the public transportation system like? What is the weather like?
Students often forget that in a full-time program, they'll be living in a new city for one or two years, and alumni often get jobs near the city in which they attend school. It is important to like the area.
Attend organized, on-campus information sessions
Several schools have half or full-day sessions for prospective students that include tours, class visits, Q&A panels with admissions officers and receptions with current students. These valuable events are typically advertised on schools' websites and should not be missed.
Sunil Parekh is a professional GMAT tutor for Varsity Tutors. He scored a 770 on the GMAT and will graduate Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA program in 2015. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Biomechanical Engineering from Stanford University.