Getting In

The College Visit 101


A campus visit can make your business school application sing. After having spent some time among potential classmates and professors—taking in the scenery, seeing where you might live, and observing how this business school might help you fulfill your goals—you can better answer the question, "Why should you attend this program?" While making a campus visit is not a requirement for applicants, it can help you describe the harmony between you and a particular school in your application—and therefore it can improve your chances of getting accepted.

Consider taking trips to your top choices as "priceless due diligence," says Beth Flye, assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "It's like looking at a car," she adds. "You read about this car, but it's completely different once you drive it." Still, campus visits are only useful if you've prepared for them and make the most of your time.

Effective campus visits are the result of careful planning. For starters, you should read as much as you can—online and in brochures and books—to be certain this school is worth visiting to you. You must make sure you know the basics about the program and will be able to ask deeper questions once you're on campus. After you've narrowed down the list of schools that you'll be visiting to something manageable and affordable, you can start planning those trips.

Timing is Key

One of the first decisions you'll make is when to visit a campus. To decide, you should look at the academic calendar because you'll want to go when classes are in session and students and faculty are on campus. You'll want to avoid holidays and review and exam weeks, when people will either not be around or not have the time to talk to you.

Knowing when you'll be submitting your application is beneficial. "We always push candidates to go the spring before they apply if they're planning to apply in the first round in the fall," says Graham Richmond, co-founder and CEO of Clear Admit. You don't want to have to squeeze in a campus visit when you're working to finish your applications, and the first-year students are still getting used to campus.

Checking with the admissions office or using an online events calendar to find out when schools offer special programs for applicants—including campus tours, lunch with students, and sitting in on a class—is also a good idea. Some business schools, for instance, offer special events for potential applicants on Fridays and the weekends, whereas others are pretty much only open to applicants Monday through Thursday. You don't want to make the trip only to find no one is home. "Looking at empty buildings lacks value," says Linda Abraham, president of Accepted.com, an admissions consulting firm.

Interviews: Sign Up Early

Another mistake applicants make is thinking of these school visits like vacations. Applicants to Columbia Business School like to visit New York during the holiday season and want to stop by campus, says Linda B. Meehan, assistant dean for admissions and executive director at Columbia. She advises against this because the tourist applicants usually find the school closed or students taking exams, and the admissions committee drowning in applications. "It's a bad time to visit," says Meehan. It's your obligation to find out when will be a good time by looking at the calendars online or calling the admissions office and asking.

Attending a class and having lunch with students are two of the standard formal programs in which you should participate. Joining a class for the day will give you an idea of the type of education and learning environment offered at a particular school, while breaking bread with students is a chance to ask your peers questions and find out about the school's social life.

Some business schools prefer that you sign up for an on-campus interview when you visit, too. In fact, at certain business schools, the interviews are offered to everyone early in the application process and later become by invitation only. Signing up early shows you are really interested in a particular school. If you visit without signing up for an interview when it is offered, schools might think you are not as interested in their program as others.

break away from admissions

Although it is wise to make your presence known and to participate in the admissions-sponsored events, you should not solely rely on this information. "If you're giving some serious thought as to whether to go to this school, you must also break away from the admissions office," says Meehan. "Spend some time on your own, sit in our hallway, close your eyes, and listen." Others suggest taking at least 30 minutes to walk around campus on your own and to stop and ask students—those who are not trained by the admissions committee—about the school and its offerings.

If you plan far enough ahead, you can make contact with leaders of the clubs that interest you and see about meeting with one of them, says Richmond. Meehan suggests visiting the centers and programs in the field that you plan on pursuing while on campus.

Forget about trying to impress the admissions committee, says Alex Chu, founder of MBA Apply. That's what the application is for, he adds. Your job on a campus visit is to find out as much as you can about the culture of a particular school and what it means to you. "Put on your journalist hat," says Chu. "Go in with the idea of doing investigative reporting."

Asking the right questions is probably the most important way to make the most of your visit. Instead of wasting your time asking about your chances of getting in, which is annoying and just looks bad, says Chu, you should ask hard-hitting questions in a polite way. For instance, he suggests asking about the recruiting rates in the down economy and what kinds of things the school could stand to improve. Of course, you should also ask questions about how the school can help you meet the personal goals you are setting.

Pay attention, Chu says, to whether you get straight answers or people dodging the questions. Both results can tell you a lot about the character of the community. Never rely on the responses of just one person. Talk to as many people as possible. Most importantly, ask yourself, "Can I see myself here? Will I be comfortable on this campus?" Answering those questions, after all, is the ultimate goal of a campus visit.

To save money, admissions consultants suggest consolidating your trips for schools that are close to one another and taking advantages of the lodging discounts and freebies, such as lunch with students, which schools might offer. Staying with friends who live in the area or attend the business school is a great idea, but you should still make sure to formally sign up for something with the school. "Make yourself known," says Richmond. "It's a sign of interest that you bothered to go to campus."

Still, humility and polite behavior rule the day. Dress in business casual attire (or more formal business attire if you're interviewing). Never try to participate in a class that you are auditing for the day. Don't expect face time with the admissions committee unless you're interviewing, says Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. And a thank you note for someone who was particularly helpful is never a bad idea, says Flye.

While the campus visit is not the time to seek out praise, you don't want to make a bad impression either. "If you take over a classroom or are arrogant to your host, it will get back to the admissions committee," says Julie Barefoot, associate dean of MBA admissions at Emory's Goizueta Business School. Be prepared with a standard message about your career plans and what drew you to this school. "You never know who you're going to talk to," says Richmond. "That person might remember you and talk to someone in admissions."

Francesca_dimeglio
Di Meglio is a reporter for Businessweek.com in Fort Lee, N.J.

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