The best way to predict what an experience will be like is to ask people who have been through that experience to describe it.
That’s why experts say it’s critical for prospective MBA students to visit business schools while classes are in session so they can speak with current students.
Harvard Business School alumna Betsy Massar says it is important for prospective MBA students to appreciate how challenging business school can be before they apply.
“Most of it is fabulously good, and some of it is not so good, and it’s important to have a realistic picture of what this experience is like,” says Massar, the founder of Master Admissions, a California-based graduate school admissions consulting firm.
She says that, when prospective MBA students visit business school campuses, they should come prepared with tough questions. “It’s big ticket item,” says Massar. “You should really know as much as you can, and most people don’t.”
Here are eight questions that experts say prospective MBA students should ask when they visit business school campuses.
Questions for Current Students
What surprised you most about business school?
Massar says this open-ended question gives current students the opportunity to tell you whether their MBA program met or exceeded their expectations. It also can pinpoint areas where the business school’s sales pitch is inconsistent with the student experience and areas where the school could use improvement.
How accessible are professors?
Kari Graham, director of graduate admissions at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, says current students are the best-equipped people on campus to answer questions about how approachable MBA professors are and whether those professors serve as mentors.
Is the culture of the school more collaborative or competitive?
Graham says MBA applicants should inquire about whether business schools rank students. “Some MBA programs have a more competitive edge than a collaborative edge, and that’s going to work really well for some people, but for other people, that’s not going to be a great learning environment for them,” she says. “So I think you have to look at yourself and see what’s going to motivate you to be your best and do your best.”
Jeff Magnuson, an independent marketing and brand consultant, says the advice and encouragement of his former MBA classmates at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, was instrumental in allowing him to break into the marketing industry. He says prospective students should ask current students whether the atmosphere is cutthroat or supportive.
Question for Admissions Officers
Given my grades, test scores, work experience, and career goals, do you think I am a good fit for your MBA program?
Graham says it’s rare for prospective MBA applicants to directly ask about their admissions chances and whether they fit a business school’s typical student profile during campus visits, but they shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
It invites the admissions officer to give honest feedback and strategic advice, Graham says.
Question for Financial Aid Officers
What kinds of financial aid am I eligible to receive at your business school?
It’s important to ask financial aid questions before creating your business school short list so that you apply to the right schools and maximize your chances of receiving scholarship offers, says Joseph Vijay Ingam, the head coach at the California-based Interview SOS, a college and graduate school admissions consulting company.
“You may end up going to a school that wasn’t your first, second or third choice, because you can’t say no to money,” he says.
Questions for Career Services Counselors
What kinds of courses and clubs does the school offer in my target industry? Do MBA students get internships in that industry, and where do they work? What percentage of recent graduates work in my target industry?
Ingam says every business school has strengths and weaknesses and that prospective MBA students need to identify schools whose academic strengths align with their career goals.
“If you’re interested in a specific subfield of business, which almost everyone is, you want to see that your school has strength in that particular field,” Ingam says. “Otherwise you could literally end up going to a school, spend $100,000 on your education or more and find out that you’re not getting advancement within the subspecialty of business that you’re interested in.”