You are always welcome to visit even the best business schools because they realise that getting a feel for the MBA programmes that you are considering is key to your MBA exploration process. Interaction with B-school representatives before you even decide to apply is essential for the right choice of a programme, for the chances of admission, for the overall MBA experience, and for post-MBA career prospects.

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Many opportunities exist to get to know the different programmes – thorough research on the Web of schools and programmes; reading presentations, brochures, magazines, and newspapers; following the online presence and social media activity; talking to people – admissions officers, faculty members, current students, and alumni; taking virtual tours of schools or visiting them in person, etc.

Preferred channels for researching B-schools: what do the stats reveal?

According to the data of the General Management Admission Council (GMAC), prospective students consult a variety of sources for their research. Word of mouth is a common source of initial information. This includes consulting friends and family, co-workers and peers, current students and alumni, and college or university professors, according to the findings of the 2016 Prospective Students Survey Report of GMAC.

The survey reveals that during the initial stages of research, prospective students are more likely to use an online or print source, such as the GMAT website, schools and related websites, magazines and newspapers, social networking sites, school guides, and brochures. This is how they prefer to first learn about the available programmes. Use of social media is pervasive as this source of information is used by 96% of all prospective students. Two-thirds, or 67%, of prospective students use social media in a variety of ways to learn more about business schools, including actively researching graduate management education, searching for upcoming events and activities, and connecting with a programme’s faculty. Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular social media sites used globally, with the exception of China, where QQ is the most popular.

Indeed, many opportunities exist that enable you to conduct thorough research of the programmes of your interest. However, focus on the most effective communication options that will help you step into the shoes of MBA students and feel that you truly belong.

Read: An Overview of MBA Study Options

Look for insiders’ perspectives

Networking is another key element of the entire MBA process and actually of the whole career search process and beyond. Social media gives you a tremendous opportunity to network. In addition, many of the B-schools encourage networking by way of their own platforms connecting candidate to candidate, candidates to current students, candidates to alumni and even to faculty members. MBA students’ blogs are an additional source of first hand information.

Read: 11 Tips for Executive Networking with Business School Alumni

Brandon Molina, Harvard Business School (US) Class of 2010, thinks that one of the most important things in selecting the best school is to talk to people. “Through talking to people you just get a sense of what their experience was like […] anyone’s individual experience is a representative of the whole school. When you get a few of those, you try to put yourself into their position and figure out if that’s something you are looking for out of an MBA,” Mr Molina says.

According to Kapil Reddy, an MBA from the University of Bath School of Management (UK), alumni are the best source of the information you are interested in. “Definitely talk to business school alumni because they can give you honest opinions about their experiences. Don’t go blindly with the rankings. Be very clear about what you want to do after your MBA and make your decision based on that,” Mr Reddy says.

Talking to people online is good, but talking to them in person is better, especially to those from schools’ admissions departments. Meeting admissions officers face-to-face is a great opportunity to get an insider’s perspective and details on the questions that matter to you, to make a personal impression, but also to benefit from feedback on your profile and to obtain advice on how to improve your chances of admission.

Most of the B-schools have personnel assisting potential students during their application. Talking to them is possible through a variety of ways – at educational fairs, programme presentations, live chats, webinars or by meeting them in person. Scheduling a face-to-face appointment during a campus visit, for example, is an efficient way to get a feel for the school and to discuss the details that will affect your decision to apply and the application strategy.

Being proactive will also show the admissions officers that you are enthusiastic and serious about the school’s programme, particularly if you have taken time to visit the school. Prepare in advance a list of questions that have no ready and clear answers in the available school materials. Be aware that the way the B-school answers your request for a face-to-face appointment and answers will show you how the school and its administration will cater to your needs once you get in.

Visit campuses to step into the shoes of MBA students

“For applicants considering programmes at multiple schools nothing compares to actually visiting a school, talking to alumni, talking to faculty, talking to staff to get a sense of the culture there,” says Susan Cates, a former Executive Director MBA at Kenan Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina (US). Physically being in a building, in a classroom and meeting people first hand can give you a great perspective. Visiting school campuses in person is much better than simply viewing a video online, following a Facebook stream or visiting a website.

Most schools have open days on campus where you can take a tour of the school, attend classes, talk directly to professors and students, and meet admissions officers in person. You can even organise an individual visit after contacting the admissions office.

Individual meetings are the best opportunity to get perspectives from current students, professors, and admissions officers. “The best way to know if the school is really good, especially if you can actually visit in person to start with, is to talk to them [school representatives –ed.] directly,” highlights Oliver Matthews, FSFM (Germany) Head of Marketing and Recruitment. “You should take the time to talk to the career services. At the end of the day, they can help you with your planning, your application to companies, and your personal development,” adds Mr Matthews, who has been MBA Marketing and Admissions Manager at the University of St. Gallen Business School in Switzerland.

Nyenrode Business School (Netherlands) offers potential students of their full-time MBA and MSc in Management the opportunity to visit their campuses in Breukelen and in Amsterdam at the expense of the school a couple of times a year. Visitors experience Nyenrode with an International Business Game replicating what they can expect in the classroom. Participants can even obtain scholarships based on their performance in the game. Marina Lamadrid Padilla was excited to share some of the most valuable aspects of her 2017 visit to the Amsterdam-based B-school: “Getting to work with different people from around the world and living some of the Nyenrode experience – I feel like I have gotten a very good idea of what I can expect from the MBA programme.”

Learn more about MBA programmes at Nyenrode Business Universiteit by taking a look at this handy school profile.

When planning a campus visit, keep in mind that it is better visiting the school during a regular session, when students are there, the staff is not reduced and the all-round vibe of the campus can be fully felt. Touring a deserted campus during an extended holiday or between main sessions does not offer a good representation of the environment that you will experience as a student.

Attend B-school presentations, but come prepared

Most B-schools are very active in presenting their programmes. Almost year round, school representatives give informative sessions during webinars, live chats, social media live streams, educational fairs, and one-to-one and social events. All of these options are easily accessible and will equip you with well-structured and focused information about the MBA programme and the business school. “At the One-to-One event, I met people from B-schools I was looking for, but I also discovered some universities that I was not aware of. It was the first time I could meet admissions representatives face-to-face and talk about the programmes,” shares one of the participants at an Access MBA event in Paris. Another one highlights: “I had the chance to meet the admissions directors of all the schools I am applying to. This is a great experience to get some insights. It was really efficient because I could meet a lot of people in a short time.”

Read: 15 Tips to Secure Personal Meetings with Top Business Schools

Such events, regardless of whether physical or online, enable you to get the answers to all the questions that matter to you. However, do your homework and come prepared so that you can really discuss the details, not just what is available on the websites. Common topics are the curriculum, faculty, extracurricular activities and life at campus, internship/placement opportunities during the programme, and the career services the school offers to graduating students. You can easily find a calendar of upcoming school presentations on the school’s website or by contacting the admissions office and also by checking worldwide events such as the Access MBA Tour and Access Schools (online One-to-One meetings).

Knowing the programmes of your choice in detail and picking the best one for you is a time and energy consuming process and it may take more than a year. As such, it would require a strong proactive attitude. In the end, you will want to choose the best programme possible for you. Therefore, take each opportunity to get a feel for the MBA programmes that you are considering.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2017-2018 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “Get a Feel for Business School”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.