How to engage with your dream MBA program

Petia Whitmore is the founder of the MBA admissions consulting firm My MBA Path. In this article, she shines some light on the role school engagement plays in your MBA application strategy with input from Anthony Whitten, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and Danielle Boland, Managing Director of The MBA Tour.

In short

Why you should engage with your dream MBA program

“How many MBA events should I attend?” That’s the question candidates ask me almost every single day. They expect a precise answer, a formula. Two events and you get a checkmark? Three and you have aced the business school engagement game? If only it was that simple. 

School engagement is a critical part of your MBA application strategy, but it may not be for the reasons you thought. There is no magic number of interactions that will guarantee the school will look favorably upon your candidacy. Rather, the fundamental purpose of school engagement is to support your research of what programs are a good fit for your goals – and what programs you are a good fit for. It provides a first-hand, personal feel for the school community and culture. These are things that are impossible to gauge simply by reading a school’s website and materials. 

Where should you begin?

MBA programs recognize the importance of connecting with MBA candidates and they facilitate these connections for you. Every MBA program will post their MBA events on their website. Many programs also publish details about their ambassador programs. This allows you to connect with current MBA students, based on your background, interests, and goals. 

In addition, getting on the business school’s email list is a smart thing to do. This way, you can stay informed about upcoming events and exciting news from your target MBA programs. 

The first place you should go to commence your school engagement is the events page on the school’s website. 

Can school engagement help you stand out?

According to Anthony, school engagement is critical when answering the three fundamental questions, “Why MBA? Why now? Why Haas?” (00:36) As Anthony puts it, “The more opportunities you take to engage with the community, the stronger your answers will be.” (00:52)

“Ultimately, what we are looking for is a rich understanding of who we are and our culture and understanding your place in it,” Anthony summarizes. (01:09)

It’s not a secret that school engagement requires effort. Searching professional networks such as LinkedIn to find alumni, writing cold emails, and scheduling chats take time. Fortunately, as we said earlier, schools make your engagement easier in a number of ways. Many programs have regular coffee chats and information sessions that you can sign up for when you are ready. Student ambassador programs can connect you with someone who can help you dig much deeper into what being a student at that school truly feels like and what it takes to get the dream post-MBA job you have your sights set on. 

Additionally, all top MBA programs participate in a number of multi-school events, similar to MBA conferences, where you are able to meet with many schools during the same event.

What are some of the best ways to engage at multi-school events?

One of the most important features of multi-school events is that getting to interact with a lot of them under one roof. As Danielle explains, “There are very few opportunities that you have to speak with the world’s leading business schools all in one place, all [at] the same time.” (02:08)

At these events, Danielle shares, “You hear from a range of perspectives – the admissions directors being one but schools will also bring their alumni and current students to share their voice.” (02:59)

Candidates sometimes tend to overlook the fact that many of these regional events bring together schools that are specifically interested in candidates from your particular region. Even more importantly, at the regional events schools bring current students and alumni from your region. 

But the value of admissions events goes even further. As Danielle explains, “Our events have admissions consultants, finance companies, embassies – truly a diverse mix of perspectives that will help you on your MBA journey.” (03:17)

Schools often offer one very valuable gift in return for your event participation – application fee waivers. While not every single event participation will grant you this perk, many will. This eases the financial burden of the application fees, especially in cases when candidates are applying to many schools. 

Finally, one of the greatest benefits so many candidates don’t realize is building true enthusiasm for their program of choice. It’s a transformation I see all the time – a candidate attending a school event and coming out of it deeply energized by the students and faculty they interacted with and the causes championed by the school. When that enthusiasm spills into your MBA application and interview, you have a better chance to demonstrate your interest in your target MBA program and ultimately land a spot.

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