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by Mike Chen | August 14, 2007

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Campus Visits

At this stage in the application season, some of you know for sure to which schools you are interested in submitting applications.  Others of you are still debating what your top-choice schools are, what your second-choice schools are, and what schools you don't want to attend at all.  Still others are deciding whether even to attend business school.

To make a better decision, it behooves you to research the schools as much as possible.  Some of the most obvious sources include the school's website, meeting school representatives at business school fairs, and speaking to alumni in your immediate area.

While these are useful sources, the campus visit helps you to gather the intangible information that you cannot get otherwise.  Speaking with current students, attending classes, and even going to school activities will give you a better flavor for a particular business school.

Some of you may be concerned about the high costs of making campus visits.  Indeed, airfare and hotel expenses are not trivial.  I believe, however, that campus visits give you good bang for the buck for two reasons:

First, if you visit a school which you decide you most definitely do not want to attend, then you will have saved yourself many dollars and hours by not having to fill out the school's application.

Second, if you do decide to apply to a school, you will have been able to gather the information needed to put forth a superior application.  Put simply, if a campus visit can significantly help you to get admitted to a business school, then the visit will be worth its cost in spades.

Planning Campus Visits

My advice is targeted mainly towards U.S.-based applicants.  International applicants will obviously have higher costs associated with visiting business schools.

If you planning on visiting business schools, I would devise a schedule by first separating your targeted schools which are in your immediate area versus those that are located further away.  For instance, if you live in Chicago, it is much easier to take a day off from work to visit Northwestern University's Kellogg school than it is to visit schools located in California.

For schools located a long distance away from your home city, I would recommend taking a week off from work in order to visit several schools in consecutive days.  When I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent a week to visit the Northeast where a larget concentration of the schools I was targeting are located.  This enabled me to "kill two birds with one stone."  Also, visiting schools on consecutive days will help you to make comparisons between schools clearer in your head than if you had visited them weeks apart.

Other Considerations

The most important consideration for scheduling campus visits is the availability of meeting current students and the opportunity to attend classes.  Unlike the corporate world, which is open nearly year-round, full-time business school classes operate on tight schedules.  Most schools meet during the fall and spring and have significant winter breaks in addition to to a traditional 3+ month summer recess.

Some schools, such as Columbia GSB, have two semesters per academic year with 12 weeks per semester.  Others have three quarters per year, such as the Chicago GSB and UCLA Anderson.  Schools on the semester system typically start classes in August to early September, while those on the quarter system usually start in mid- to-late September.  When deciding when to see a school, try to visit when classes are in session.  Even if you are not able to attend a class, you will still be able to speak with current students.

Also, keep in mind that business schools operate midterm and final examinations, just as other academic institutions do.  Students are less likely to be accessible and class visits are less likely to be available during these times.  If you contact them ahead of time, most schools' admissions offices are happy to recommend when you should visit campus.

One other note: while most admissions offices are open Monday through Friday, many business schools only hold classes four days a week.  The day off is often Friday but can also be mid-week as well.  If you are planning on making visits to campuses, try to avoid going when classes are not in session because the opportunities to speak with current students will be limited.

Another important consideration is the timing of applications.  As I will discuss, you should aim to visit your targeted schools before you submit your written applications.  For some schools with Round One deadlines in late October, this leaves a window of only several weeks during the fall to visit (from the start of classes until the application deadline).

Making the most out of your visits

We all have busy schedules so being efficient during the application season is critical.  In addition, business school applications are very expensive; they can cost upwards of $200 each.  For these reasons, you will only want to apply to schools in which you have a sincere interest in attending.  Hence, your main goal in making campus visits is to determine which schools you wish to submit applications, or similarly, to confirm your positive impressions of particular schools.

Next time, we'll disucss the importance of utilizing campus visits to gather the information you will need to let your application stand out among the others in the candidate pool.

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