Researching MBA Programs Virtually

As you get ready to tackle your business school applications, you might be wondering: what is the best way for me to research my target MBA programs? For schools that are in your city or within a relatively short distance, you should plan to attend in-person info sessions, class tours, and campus visits now that COVID-19 restrictions have largely been lifted. Conducting this sort of research is essential to delivering a strong application. Just think about all those “Why our program?” essays. Perhaps even more importantly, visiting a school and seeing it firsthand can help you determine whether it is right for you.  

However, you might also wonder whether you are expected to visit schools that are across the country from where you live—or even in another country?  Admissions officers understand the financial expense of traveling to a campus that is far away (especially given how expensive flights and hotel stays have been lately), so they do not expect candidates who are outside their geographic area to attend in-person events. However, they do still want you to research their MBA program in detail to assess your fit. Fortunately, many resources are available that allow you to get to know the different schools remotely

The first step is to make sure that you can answer three basic questions for each program you plan to apply to. Although the schools might not necessarily ask you these specific questions directly, being able to answer them for yourself will ensure that you have thoroughly done your research.

  1. How will the school’s academic/professional offerings (classes and clubs) help you achieve your short- and long-term goals?
  2. How will you both benefit from and contribute to the school’s nonacademic/professional offerings?
  3. 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 learn 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. Months from now, you are going to want to remember anecdotes, contact names (along with email addresses!), and other key details, and you cannot simply rely on your memory. 

Sign up for school webinars. 

Often, schools that are not conducting online information sessions 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 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 call or Zoom session 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 might be active in your area. If so, contact the groups to request a 20-minute phone call or a coffee chat 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 it provides 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 of the school’s videos addresses the school’s flexible curriculum, and in yet another, students explain how they manage Chicago’s infamous winter weather. 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. 

Schools regularly post news and program updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The Berkeley Haas School of Business, for example, has promoted some of its innovation programs, posted about events, and spotlighted the achievements of professors, students, and alumni on its Twitter account. 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 2022 employment report reveals that 38% of its graduates last year accepted jobs in consulting, while 24% entered positions in technology. 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.

Download and consult mbaMission’s Insider’s Guides. 

More than 15 years 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 gain firsthand insight into your preferred programs. Many of them did the same thing when they were applying to business school and are happy to “pay it forward” by speaking with you now. 

If you have questions about your MBA application or wonder which schools you would be competitive at, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission Senior Consultant.

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