Forster-Thoms founder Evan Forster on how to get the most out of your b-school campus visit

So, now you’ve done your research on which schools you probably want to apply to: You’ve read all the rankings, looked at all the websites, gone to the World MBA Fair in your locale, even made an Excel spreadsheet detailing the strengths, weaknesses, and stats of each program. That’s great, but now it’s time to pack a bag. Until you get on that campus, you really never know.

It may sound wonderful to go to INSEAD and be in France for a year, but remember, INSEAD is not in Paris; it’s in Fontainebleau, a beautiful, quiet suburb. It’s sort of like assuming that Kellogg is in Chicago. It’s close. Real close, in fact. But it’s not in the city.

Researching schools is kind of like online dating. At first, that picture looks really good. It’s like the school is smiling at you with that “come-hither” stare that promises everything. But until you’re actually face-to-face on that first date at Starbucks and have spent some real time with that school, you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Seriously, would you sign a two-year lease with Brooklyn Bombshell23 or Papa Motown24 without spending a little real time with ’em first? That’s why campus visits are so important.

There are two kinds of campus visits:

A) The Guerrilla Method: You just show up. Certainly, if you’re in the area, and you’re just reading this now, there's no reason not to drop in and hope for the best, but you can’t expect to get the same level of information you would with a more structured visit.

B) Planning Ahead: We recommend you call the school, and that way, at the very least, you can find out when they typically host information sessions, tours, when it's closed, when it’s open, et cetera. For example, certain schools, like HBS, do not allow visits at the start of the semester, while others, like Vanderbilt’s Owen and Emory’s Goizueta, have overnights or weekends ( Discover Weekend, Super Saturday) specifically devoted to everyone and anyone interested in business school.

But ok, you’re special! Gay, African-American, female, Latino—or a little bit of each! Most MBA programs—especially top-tier ones—have niche events geared toward all sorts of groups. For example, Chicago’s Booth has an LGBT weekend in the fall. (If you don’t know what LGBT stands for, then you’re probably not in that group ... or in marketing ... or an employee at JetBlue.) Some, like Indiana’s Kelley, have events geared specifically toward women. If you're thinking about Stanford, check out the “XX Factor: Women Changing The World.” Are you part of an ethnic minority? Check out The Duke MBA Workshop for Minority Applicants or the Ross Up-Close Weekend.

Now You’re There: What to Do

  1. At the very least, go to an information session and take the tour.
  2. Do your best to meet the admissions officer who reviews candidates from your part of the planet.
  3. Get your butt to the student union or wherever students hang (ask your tour guide) and schmooze. People love to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  4. Do your best to attend a class and meet a professor.
  5. Check out clubs and organizations. Where can you help? What can you add?
  6. Bring business cards. Get business cards. You want to stay in contact with current students (like the head of the soccer or wine organization or Women in Business), not to mention that admissions officer.
  7. What’s the curriculum like? Is there a core? Or is it flexible? What does this mean for your intended study plan? You should not leave the school without having good answers to all these questions.
  8. Check out the surrounding community and city. Do you see yourself there, or are you gonna go stir crazy at Purdue’s Krannert when you have to live in West Lafayette, Indiana?
  9. Take notes the whole time you’re there. You’re going to use all of this info in your essays.

Your head is probably spinning right now. How am I going to remember all of this? But don't worry. Even a journey of a thousand miles (say, from NYU Stern to Chicago Booth) begins with one motivated candidate and a bushel of hard work. Happy trails!

--Auntie Evan