How to make the most of an MBA fair

It is now possible to research MBA programmes without leaving your home or office desk, thanks to the internet and the host of school-specific and general information websites available. But, given the investment of time, effort and money that the MBA experience demands, there is still no substitute for meeting the admissions personnel of possible schools face-to-face.
One of the largest and longest established b-school information fairs, the QS World MBA Tour will be visiting New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai from 28 November to 7 December 2006, giving aspiring MBAs from India the opportunity to meet admissions teams from many of the world’s top schools and gather information on topics such as programme length and content, local conditions, GMAT testing, faculty strength and post-graduation job opportunities. But how do you go about making the best of the event on the day?

1. Prepare – The QS World MBA Tour attracts over 40,000 visitors around the globe every year, so you can bank on your local event being busy. You may have to wait your turn to talk to many of the most high profile schools and, with a queue of other hopefuls behind you, your time with an admissions officer may be limited. Consequently it’s imperative that you make the best of the time you have. Start your preparation by using a personalised ranking such as Scorecard at www.topmba.com to draw up a list of programmes, which suit your individual goals, abilities and circumstances. Then, visit the relevant schools’ websites to conduct further research. If you have the time, order a print copy of a school’s prospectus and bring it along on the day – it shows you have done your homework and mean business.

2. Focus – Don’t waste your time on schools or programmes that aren’t right for you. Look at the current class profile and entry requirements and don’t forget to check out exactly how much a programme is going to cost you. Use your time at the fair to talk to representatives of schools that are realistic options instead of hanging around in queues for ‘big name’ schools that may simply not be the right match for your skills, ambitions or bank balance.

3. Map out questions – Develop a list of questions in advance so that you don’t miss anything vital on the day. Priorities will vary from person to person, but you may want to consider asking about teaching style, mix of students, the background of academics, specialisations, future career options and the local cost of living.

4. Don’t overload the admissions officers – Admissions personnel will be pleased to meet you, particularly if you are well prepared, but they can’t devote the whole event to you. Consequently, make sure that you keep your questions focused and relevant and prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ in advance, which will give them the salient facts about you, your background and your goals in no more than two minutes. Feel free to bring evidence of your qualifications with you, if you wish, but keep them in your bag unless they are asked for.

5. Don’t just focus on admissions officers – An increasing number of schools now bring alumni to fairs, alongside their admissions personnel. These individuals have lived the experience and provide valuable insight into all the pros and cons of the b-school experience – so make sure you make the most of their knowledge.

6. Look the part – Information fairs aren’t a platform for formal admissions, but they could be the first point of contact with your target school. Consequently, it makes sense to look and act in a professional manner. That doesn’t necessarily mean turning up in a formal business suit, but it doesn’t mean arriving in a t-shirt and an old pair of shorts either!

7. Funding – An MBA can make all the difference to your career prospects, but it can prove expensive. Make sure you find out what scholarships the school offers and how and when to apply. Also check whether they have any special deals on loans with local financial institutions. Attending a QS World MBA Tour event also qualifies you to apply for a range of dedicated scholarships from schools such as Wharton, IE-Instituto de Empresa and Ashridge as well as the portfolio of Quacquarelli Symonds scholarships – more details at www.topmba.com.

8. Use the information sessions – The QS World MBA Tour isn’t just a venue for meeting individual schools, you can also learn a lot through information sessions on topics such as GMAT and the applications process. Many events also feature Master Classes in which you can see business school academics in action and get a taste of what studying for an MBA will really entail.

9. Evaluate – A lot of successful MBA students say that they knew the right school as soon as they talked to its representative; so, trust your instincts as much as your research. Make sure that you assess the people you meet – are they interested in you and your questions? Can they answer those questions easily and authoritatively? Do they seem professional? Meeting people face-to-face like this is as much about you making a judgement as it is about them providing you with relevant and comprehensive information.

10. And, finally, relax and enjoy yourself!