Why is visiting schools before applying for your MBA so important? Here are some questions to consider:
Would you buy a car without test-driving it first?
We're not the first to use this metaphor, but it works. Applying for an MBA program without visiting first is like buying a car sight-unseen. (Derrick Bolton, Stanford's head of admissions, actually equates it to buying a house—the cost of tuition plus the opportunity cost of foregoing a salary for two years.) B-school is a MUCH bigger investment—and more life-changing—than any new car will ever be. If you're going to drop six figures on your graduate education, why not pony up a little time and money in advance to check out how that investment might work for you?
Do you really know what the school is all about?
You might not get it just from reading their websites, but every MBA program truly is different. School visits can not only give you a feel for the campus, the professors and the students, they can also give you valuable insights from the admissions officers when you attend an info session. These insights can help you write your essays. All schools want to know why you've chosen them. You'll need to explain it in your essays and your interview. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, because it's Harvard. The applicants who are admitted are the ones who can articulate why they want to go there.
Are you truly certain you want to go to that school?
Only one business school encourages all applicants to visit campus (and interview) before applying, and that school is Tuck, at Dartmouth. Most other b-schools say that you're welcome to visit, but they understand if you cannot, and they insist that visiting doesn't give anyone an advantage. (Of course, what we've just discussed indicates a very strong advantage, in terms of the learning you'll gain about the school, which you can feed into the essays you'll be writing.)
So why does Tuck want you to swing by for a spell? We suspect the main reason for this is due to their location. They are up in the mountains, in Hanover, N.H., remote and removed from everything. All that's going on at Tuck is Tuck. It's a completely different b-school experience than you'd have at, say, NYU-Stern, which is more a collection of big buildings scattered throughout New York City’s Greenwich Village than a “campus” per se. The admissions folks at Tuck want to make sure that you know what you're getting into – before you get in. So they want you to visit, to see it for yourself, and possibly save everyone some time if you discover it's not the right place for you.
School visits help you go beyond the MBA rankings, when selecting target schools, to understanding how a school is differentiated. They can make a big difference for you in the entire process of applying. Visiting the school in advance of applying is somewhat comparable to an informational interview that you might have when exploring a new career. You're doing your research, asking some questions, seeing if it's a fit. You're kicking the tires, as it were. And, you might actually discover that you don't want to go there. We had a client visit UC-Berkeley once. Afterwards, she flew back home to New York feeling more committed than ever to go to Columbia (and yes, she got in). Haas wasn't for her. She never would've known that without putting forth the effort to go discover it for herself.
Cruise over to the EssaySnark blog for more advice on school visits and applying to Tuck, NYU-Stern, UC-Berkeley Haas, Columbia, Harvard... and any other great MBA program.