As you get ready to tackle your business school applications later this year, you may be wondering how you can research your target programs in the meantime, given that the spread of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 has closed university campuses across the country. This means no in-person info sessions, no campus tours, and no class visits.
Conducting this sort of research is essential to delivering a strong application—just think about all those “Why our program?” essays—and perhaps even more importantly, it can help you determine whether a particular business school is right for you.
Given today’s environment, you will need to take a creative, more virtual approach to collecting information on your preferred programs this year. This may seem daunting at first, but many more resources than you might expect are available to help you get to know the different schools.
Before you dive in, though, you want to be sure you can answer three basic questions for each program. Although these are not questions any of the schools will necessarily ask you directly, being able to answer them for yourself will ensure that you have thoroughly done your research.
- How will the school’s academic/professional offerings (classes and clubs) help you achieve your short- and long-term goals?
- How will you both benefit from and contribute to the school’s nonacademic/professional offerings?
- How does the culture/feel of the program fit you personally? Does it match your character and personality?
Now that you know what you need to get from your research, we can offer you some ideas for getting started. Approach each step as a fact-finding mission. The single most important piece of advice we can give is to take notes—incessant and copious—the minute you have completed any of these steps. Four months from now, you are going to want to remember anecdotes, contact names (with email addresses!), and other key details, and you cannot simply rely on your memory.
- Sign up for school webinars. While schools might not be conducting online information sessions, they will be conducting online webinars. For example, check out this list of virtual admissions events at Harvard Business School. Likewise, some programs post recordings of previous online events; see this list of past Columbia Business School webinars, for instance.
- Tap into your network. Check LinkedIn to see if you have colleagues—or colleagues with contacts—at any of the business schools on your list. And ask your Facebook friends if they know anyone at the programs you are targeting. Connecting with someone new is typically easier when you already share a mutual connection. Reach out to schedule one-on-one chats and collect information about classes, clubs, professors, career opportunities, and school culture.
- Take advantage of Admissions Ambassador programs. Most MBA programs designate a small number of students to be available to answer questions from prospective applicants. Schedule a phone or Skype conversation with one of these student representatives to learn more about their school’s classes, clubs, and culture.
- Reach out to local alumni organizations. A number of business school alumni clubs may be active in your area. If so, contact the groups to request a 20-minute phone call with one or more members. How the club responds to your request will also give you insight into how active the alumni association is and what types of resources they provide for the school’s graduates and students.
- Check out YouTube. YouTube can be a treasure trove of information on the top business schools. Chicago Booth, for example, has posted a tour of its Harper Center conducted by Nobel Prize–winning professor Richard Thaler. Another video addresses the school’s flexible curriculum, and in yet another, students explain how they manage Chicago’s infamous winter weather. With more and more in-person activities being cancelled at the leading programs these days, we expect the schools to continue building up their video offerings over the next few weeks or even longer. Consider subscribing to your target programs’ channels or at least make a note to yourself to check them periodically for new posts.
- Follow programs on social media. The novel coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly changing situation. Schools are regularly posting updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The Berkeley Haas School of Business, for example, has been promoting some of its innovation programs on Twitter, as well as posting about how its students are staying connected during this difficult time. Be sure to tune into these channels for the latest information.
- Read schools’ employment reports. Every top MBA program publishes its annual employment report online, and these reports include data for both full-time and internship recruiting. For example, Northwestern Kellogg’s 2019 employment report reveals that 31% of its graduates last year accepted jobs in consulting, while 19% entered positions in financial services. In addition, most schools present a list of their top recruiters, and some even publish a comprehensive list of all the companies that recruited and/or hired their students.
- Consult our mbaMission Insider’s Guides. More than a decade ago, we began publishing our suite of Insider’s Guides to the top programs to help aspiring MBAs get to know their target schools in depth, more quickly and easily—and we have been updating and expanding them ever since. Informed by direct input from students, alumni, and other school representatives, and consolidating information on the programs’ unique resources and offerings, faculty, environment, social life, and other defining characteristics, these free guides allow you to bypass the stereotypes and efficiently gain a profound understanding of a school’s structure and culture.
In addition to these options, the time-tested approach of directly contacting alumni and students remains a great way to get firsthand insight into your preferred programs. And because so many people are at home right now and may have a little extra free time on their hands, you might find connecting with these individuals easier than usual. That is a definite bright spot in this otherwise challenging time.