The value of campus visits
All schools encourage campus visits and some schools, like UCB Berkeley or GSB Chicago, have asked how you learned about the school or whether you have made a campus visit in their application questions. Here’s the way Berkeley (Haas) admissions puts it:
“The best way to know what it is really like to be a Berkeley MBA student is to come visit, meet current students and faculty, and observe a class. Visiting gives you a chance to experience the Haas culture and community, and to learn more about both the Haas School of Business and UC Berkeley campus. We strongly encourage a visit because it could be helpful for you to determine if the program is a match for your needs. If you cannot make it to campus, Full-Time MBA Admissions sponsors a variety of off-campus information sessions and participates in MBA Fairs around the world. You can also connect with current students through the Haas Student Ambassadors.
We understand that not everyone has the ability to make a campus visit; therefore we do not have a preference for applicants who have been to campus. However, we are interested to see what you have done to learn more about the program, and what specific aspects of the Berkeley MBA appeal to you.”
Other schools like Columbia, which has an Early Decision Round, are critically interested in making sure that students who apply in that round are committed to go to Columbia if accepted. Students vowing that they want to go to Columbia in New York City but have never visited the campus open up a credibility gap.
If you are unable to visit the schools, try your best to attend an Information Session in Tokyo or in a nearby Asian location. For example, Berkeley will offer an Off-Campus Admissions Event in Seoul October 24, 2011 and in Tokyo October 26, 2011.
And whether you can make a physical campus or not, be sure to watch the 52 minute Interface video on our Home page (newinterfacesite.wpcomstaging.com). You will see a picture of an iconic Harvard building in the video window, right above the Topics section. This 52 minute video covers 18 of the leading MBA schools worldwide and offers tips regarding your choice of schools.
Visits to the campus of the schools that represent your primary targets are certainly valuable. There is no substitute for “seeing with your own eyes.” You get a first-hand feeling for the culture of a school. You get a chance to sit in on a class, sensing the quality of the interaction and the students. In the final analysis, the quality of the students with whom you will be spending two years of your life is the single most important criterion in choosing a school.
Moreover, by making a campus visit, you demonstrate that you are seriously interested in the program, willing to spend the time and money to make the visit. You can talk to current students, Japanese and non-Japanese, attend an on-campus information session, and observe a class. You can cite your visit and impressions in your application.
These days the cost of overseas airline travel is not as expensive as it once was. In a well-planned trip, within a week you can visit several schools. For planning purposes, allow yourself at least one day for each school, which includes the travel time required.
With careful logistics and scheduling, if your time is particularly limited, you can compress two campus visits in a day. For example, in New York, if you arrange your trip carefully, and the information sessions and class visit availability works out conveniently, you might be able to visit both Columbia and NYU in a full day, HBS and MIT in a full day, and Chicago and Kellogg in a full day. I have done so— although the scheduling quite tight and is not ideal.
What is the best timing for these visits?
I recommend that you make the visits when classes are in session and when there are plenty of students around. In an ideal world, you would visit your primary targets during one trip and then make a second trip when you are accepted by the schools—to make your final decision and get more detailed information about housing (or arrange it) as well as summer school, and discuss other issues .
If you can, take your spouse with you on these trips, at least the second trip. Remember that during the one or two years that you will be overseas your family will, in most cases, accompany you, so that bringing your spouse is a nice step to build mutual support for your studies.
Should I interview during campus visits?
Many of the schools allow interviews by selection only. For campus visits at this early stage, you will not be interviewing. It is dangerous and premature to do so before you even have a game plan and your essays prepared.
In any case, never take an interview on campus unless you have been professionally trained at Interface for such interviews. I have known well-qualified candidates who made the mistake of prematurely getting into interviews during campus visits without professional training and who failed miserably. One was later accepted by Stanford— which fortunately for him did not allow interviews on campus, and he was trained by Interface for the Stanford interview to which he was invited.
How should I dress for a campus visit?
Since you are not interviewing, you can dress as students dress on campus. Wear elegant casual clothing suitable for the weather, so-called business casual. If you are eventually invited to a school for an interview, dress as you would for the office, in business attire, men: coat and tie, women: business suits.
What should I do during a campus visit?
Most schools arrange a tour of the campus, sometimes in groups and sometimes with an assigned volunteer. They also offer an information session. Participate in both of these. In addition, they will allow you to sit in on a class. You generally make arrangements for these activities in the admissions office of the school. Sometimes you can walk in on the day of your visit and sign up, although some schools require advanced reservations. Check the information on each school’s web page during your trip planning to arrange the scheduling.
It is important to talk to your Japanese colleagues at the school or those Japanese students with whom you can arrange a meeting, even if for a coffee in the student lounge. I also encourage applicants to show they have guts and international comfort by talking to non-Japanese students.
One tip is to get the name of the officers in the clubs or organizations that interest you at a school, send them an email, and see whether they will meet you during your visit. Always be on the lookout for ways in which you could help that organization were you a student at that school. Think of unique ways in which you can contribute and sound out those ideas with your contacts.
Ask each person you meet what they like best about their student experiences and what they believe could be improved. Ask club members what kind of help they need and see how you could contribute in a specific way.
Can you get into a school without making a campus visit?
Certainly failure to make a campus visit is not going to automatically fail you just like success in making a campus visit is no guarantee that you will be admitted, if you don’t have the required credentials, the winning essays and the winning interviews.
Most Japanese find the time to visit the schools of interest to them by making the time, using accumulated vacation or taking a long weekend plus a few week days. With the right trip planning you can manage a fair number of campus visits with a week.
If you really find it impossible to make campus visits to the schools of your choice, then by all means at least attend the information sessions and other events in Japan offered by the schools or their current students and alumni. The Interface Japanese staff do a great job by informing you of these activities beforehand in the Topics section of our Home Page (newinterfacesite.wpcomstaging.com).
Time flies. In September I will be offering the first group interview training workshops that are dynamite to build the foundation for your interview skills. These workshops are inexpensive and offer networking and other advantages to applicants. I strongly recommend that all MBA applicants join these workshops. Just as winning essays require much more than proficient English, winning interviews require much more than proficient English.
All you need to join the interview workshop is a résumé.
All the best,
Warren J. Devalier
©2011 Warren J. Devalier