HBS campusMany MBA applicants consider conducting a trip to the schools they’re interested in. In this post I will share tips and recommendations for preparing and conducting such a trip based on my own personal trip experience and things I’ve read or heard. Most of the tips will be relevant for all applicants, with some special ones geared more towards international, and specifically Israeli, applicants.

Personally I do recommend doing such a trip, for all the obvious reasons:

  • Getting to know the school better through talking to current students and professors, sitting in a class, seeing the facilities and so on.
  • Getting to know the city / suburb the school is located in.
  • Deciding if the schools is a right “fit” for you.
  • Last but not least, signaling the school you’re highly interested in its program (read on to see how this signaling is implemented).

However, I do have my reservations: For international applicants (and more so for Israelis, who need to travel a great distance), the question of whether to conduct a visit is not a trivial one. Such a trip requires money, time and days off work, so one should weigh these factors against the benefits of the trip. From my own personal experience, a trip is not “a must”.

This is my personal analysis of the perceived benefits of the trip:

  • Finding if a school is a right “fit”: Unless you’re able to dedicate few full days for each school, it isn’t likely that you’ll really be able to scratch the surface and find out the ‘true nature’ of the school (if such nature even exists). I visited four schools and all of them looked great to me, the Israeli students I met were super-nice and I could definitely picture myself as a student in each one of the schools.
  • Gathering additional information about the school: almost all factual info can be gleaned from the internet and from contacting (via mail or phone) current students, alums or faculty – or reading blogs like this one. The trips mostly add personal and emotional impressions from each school, however in my opinion they should be taken with a grain of salt as they are the result of a very short, limited visit.
  • Getting to know the school’s area: that’s true, but in my case that wasn’t a significant factor influencing my opinion of the schools anyway (otherwise I would have definitely applied to HBS – Hawaii Business School, for instance).
  • Signaling the school you’re interested: all schools officially declare that visits do not influence their opinion of the applicant, as they’re aware of the fact that many applicants cannot visit. I believe this is true, but to some extent I do think a visit might – only marginally – influence the school. Even if it does, it’s not going to compensate for weaknesses in your application, it’s only going to show the school you’re truly interested. So on a “positive influence scale” of 0-10, I’d give it 1-3.

My Visit
HBS campus I happened to be in the US in September, just before applying in round 1, so I visited 3 East Coast schools – HBS, Columbia and Wharton. I dedicated a day for each school, except for Wharton where I attended the excellent 2-days “Explore Wharton” event, which happened to be exactly during the time of my visit. Later on, I also visited London Business School for half a day, again as part of another trip to London.
The main benefits for me were:

  • Personally talking to several Israeli students at each school – it’s true that while I could definitely talk to them via mail / Skype, nothing beats a personal conversation.
  • Sitting in a class – being an Israeli student, I was never exposed to a “Case Study” class, and this was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. The class at HBS was the thing that impressed me most in the entire visit.
  • Seeing the campus first hand – though not a major factor influencing my opinion, it was still interesting to see business school campuses, especially as they’re very different from what I’d seen in Israel.
  • Getting “more material” for my application essays – as a result of the above, after each visit I felt motivated and almost eager to write the application essays, especially – but not only – the “Why XXX” essay. Attending a class at HBS “inspired” me to delve into the Ethics essay with some examples discussed during the class.
  • I did feel my visit, in some way, signaled the schools I was deeply interested in them (which of course was true…). In addition to registering my name during the info sessions, I also mentioned my visit – and what I learned from it – in my essays.

Bottom Line
HBS campusIf a trip fits your financial, work and time obligations (as was the case for me) – go ahead and do it, it does offer some marginal benefits. If not, don’t stress over it, and invest the time in reaching out to more alums living in your area, or contacting currents students / faculty / fellow applicants via e-mail.
If the trip hadn’t happened to coincide with my plans anyway, I wouldn’t have done it. Having said that, I must say that I knew the US relatively well from prior visits and from friends, and the list of schools I wanted to apply to was not very long in the first place. If these two conditions aren’t true in your case – i.e. you’ve never been to the US or you have too many possible schools on your list – the necessity of a trip may be higher for you.

Practical Trip Tips
The amazing HBS Spangler Lounge Before you begin planning: Every school publishes in its web site all the information relevant for a visit, usually in a dedicated “Visit” or “Contact” page. Here’s the visit page for HBS. This page will usually include contact information, information session details, registration instructions, maps and so on. It will also include special events (for example – Explore Wharton), and sometimes it can be worthwhile to plan your visit schedule according to these events.

HBS campusWhen? It’s recommended to schedule the trip to a period when the school is in full throttle: during a semester, when classes are taking place and information sessions are being held. The school’s visit page will supply information regarding that. In general, schools schedules slightly vary, here is the rough schedule of HBS for 2007: September 4th – December 19th – first semester; January 14th – May 21st – second semester (note that this does not include holidays, exams etc.).
In addition, try not to schedule the trip too close to applications deadlines, and preferably do it before you submit your applications, or even start writing your essays. In general, the sooner – the better, as a trip may help you decide which schools you’d like to apply to.
Weather might also be a factor – for example, for an Israeli to visit Boston in February might be just a bit too much!

For how long? Ideally, you would allow yourself about two days for each school – for visiting the school itself, meeting students and touring the city, in case it’s your first visit.

HBS campusWhere to stay? I recommend staying as close as possible to the school – classes may start early and public transportation isn’t always the most convenient, especially for a first-time tourist. In addition, staying close will enable you to experience what it’ll be like living there during school.
If you can find a current student that will host you – that’s of course a great option, but if not there’s usually a good (though not a cheap) hotel next to every school. Another option might be staying in the city center if you’re visiting a big city like NY, Boston or Philadelphia – this way you’ll be able to experience both the city and the school.
Good US hotels aren’t cheap, especially in big cities, and you should budget 100-150$ per night for an low-average hotel (depending on the location and the season). See my post about HBS admit weekend for a recommendation about DoubleTree Guest Suites hotel, a good value hotel 10 minutes walking from HBS.

HBS campusTransportation: no offense, but in my opinion flights in the US have become almost intolerable, especially for foreigners and even more so for Israelis. With queues, security measures and so many flights being late, flights became expensive, unreliable, slow and exhausting.
On the other hand, driving in the US can be cheaper, easier and even… fun. If you decide on renting a car, I cannot recommend highly enough taking a GPS – I believe all rental companies offer it today, for a price of $10 a day. Take it!
As for specific rental companies, I recommend Alamo/National. They’re not very well known in Israel, but are usually cheaper than other companies and I found their GPS (Garmin) to be superior to other companies’.
For a “classic” East Coast schools tour including Boston, NYC and Philadelphia, one can easily rent a car and skip flights altogether. Here are the driving distances for these routes, with links to Google Maps for each one (an excellent site, btw):
New York City – Boston: 4 hours

New York City – Philadelphia: 2 hours

Boston – Philadelphia: 5.5 hours

Of course, if you’d like to go to Chicago or the West Coast as well, you probably cannot avoid flights.

What to do?

  1. Information session – a short session organized by the school’s admissions office. It lasts 1-1.5 hours and contains a presentation by a member of the admissions office, followed by a Q&A session. While the presentation itself does not contain information that’s not available on the web, the info session offers an opportunity to ask questions, interact with other prospective applicants and have your name registered with the school. Usually it’s not required to pre-register for an information session, and they’re held several times a week. Try to organize your visit so it’ll coincide with an info session, but it’s definitely not “a must”.
  2. Meet current students – they’re an excellent source of information regarding the program, admissions, life at the school, career options and so on. Many schools have some sort of an “ambassadors program” that you can sign up to online, and get hooked up to a current student by the school. In addition, if you’re an international, I highly recommend meeting current students of your nationality; which brings us to the next question – How to ‘find’ current students of my nationality?For Israelis, try posting a message in the MBA Chances forum. Another option which I used very successfully is looking for the “Israel Club” or “Jewish Club” of the school. Almost all schools have an Israel Club that has a web page with the names and emails of its presidents / officers. Simply email all of them, stating that you’re coming, and they’ll probably be happy to meet you and show you around. In general, school clubs are an excellent way to get in touch with students – supposed you’re into consulting, simply look up the consulting club’s website and contact the club’s officers.
    After the visit, don’t forget to email the students you met, thank them and try to keep in touch.
  3. Attend classes – attending a class is a good way to learn more about the academic aspect of the school. When I visited HBS before applying, the class visit impressed me the most. It wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before (in my undergraduate studies), and reminded me of a scene from a movie: the heated class discussion, the laughs and the clapping, the excellent examples students gave from their own experience. Back then I still wasn’t sure I’d fit in, but it was really cool!Usually schools allow you to register to a class visit online. I haven’t, and one of the students I met with simply brought me to one of his classes.After class you can try to talk to the professor. If you do, a thank you email is a nice touch and may be the beginning of a wonderful friendship (or just something you can talk about in your application essays…).Another thing Israeli applicants can do is try to contact an Israeli professor teaching at the schools – most top schools have them, and they can be easily found via the school’s faculty website.
  4. Attend special events – find out with current students if the school has a “Happy Hour” event, usually taking place on Thursday or Friday. It’s a good opportunity to meet many students in a social setting (and to get free food and drinks…).
  5. Take notes – write brief summaries of what you saw / felt / heard. Take special care to write down names of students and faculty you met and classes you attended, for future use. You’ll be surprised how blurred everything will become once you’re back home.
  6. Take photos. You can see all my photos from the HBS visit at my photo gallery.
  7. Have fun!

2 Responses to “Tips for a successful business schools trip”

  1. CS @ HBS » Blog Archive » Application Timeline Says:

    […] 16 – conducted a successful, yet hectic, schools trip to the East Coast. Read more about it here. Simultaneously, worked on […]

  2. CS @ HBS » Blog Archive » Taking Good Trips Says:

    […] We get a lot of visitors in class, practically every day. As it’s currently the school trips season for prospective students, I’d like to refer you to my of my old posts (a classic, really) – Tips for a Successful Business Trip. […]