How to Conduct Your B-School Research Online |

How to Conduct Your B-School Research Online

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated July 30, 2019 Updated July 30, 2019

We rely increasingly on online resources to learn about, well, everything. This is particularly the case when researching international higher and business education options, because as great as it would be to travel around the world to visit schools and get the answers that you need firsthand, it’s just not going to happen (it would be great though, right?).  

But how can you make sure that you’re getting the best information? What can you trust? What should you be doing that you’re not? We may be digital natives, but the digital kingdom is still infant, let’s not forget.

To address this, we spoke to admissions staff from IE Business School in Spain, the Rotman School and HEC Montréal in Canada, and the Tuck School in the US to get their top tips on the world of researching business schools online.

If it is not possible to visit the campus of the institutions in which they are interested, what methods would you recommend a prospective MBA employed to research business schools?

Pilar Vicente, director of admissions, IE Business School (PV): Schools travel a lot for fairs and events worldwide and so if a campus visit is not possible I would recommend that they find out when a school that they’re interested in is travelling to a city near them. Meeting a representative from a school will allow them to ask their personal questions and find out more about the values and culture of the school which is very important when deciding which school to go out. Alumni and current students are another great source of information and are able to share their experiences with candidates and provide a unique perspective – most schools will put candidates in touch with an alum or current student if asked. Additionally, it may even be that a school has a presence in a country or city near candidates, for example, IE has over 25 offices worldwide which candidates are able to visit to attend events and get more information about schools. Lastly, I would recommend attending webinars or virtual sessions as it´s a great way to find out more information about specific programs and the life at the school.

Michael Moses, assistant director for full-time MBA admissions, Rotman School of Management (MM): Many schools offer digital alternatives for those who cannot visit an MBA campus in person. For example, if a prospective student is looking to meet with a member of the admissions team, students, alumni, etc., this can be arranged via Skype. Prospective students may also be able to learn more from a school’s community from that community itself via content published on social media channels such as student blogs, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Additionally, information sessions and sample classes are often recorded and made available to students online to watch at their convenience, wherever they may be. In the case of information sessions, they may also be run by a school via a webinar, giving prospective students the opportunity to sit in on an information session from the comfort of their own home and ask questions (and receive answers) by chatting with the school as they conduct the information session over the internet. Finally, some schools offer virtual tours of their actual campus, letting students explore the campus even if they are not physically there. For example, the entire interior of the Rotman School of Management can be explored via Google Maps. Other great ways to learn about business schools without actually visiting the campus is to read about them online at any of the popular GMAT or b-school websites (like this one!).

Michel Lemay, MBA director for program promotion and student recruitment, HEC Montréal (ML): The priority should be to talk with a student already engaged in the program. There is no better way to understand the philosophy of a program, the areas of focus and the key differences with other programs than to talk with a student who is actually living the experience, ideally at the end of the curriculum. A visit of the campus will normally give you a sense of the atmosphere in the building and the classes. Nowadays, infrastructure plays an important role in the quality of teaching – how modern are the classrooms, how easy is it to reserve a small room for teamwork, how rich is the library and databases available to students, how intense is student life and how diverse are the activities organized by the school and student associations… these are all better perceived through a campus visit, but can be felt by talking to a current student. The prospective MBA should also make a virtual tour if available, and look at pictures available on sites like Flickr or Pinterest. This gives a ‘feel’ of the atmosphere on the campus.

Nancy Granada, senior associate director of marketing and communications for admissions, Tuck School of Business (NG): A school’s official website is a great starting point for getting to know the schools you are interested in applying to. It’s important to spend time really digging into the site to learn more about the program, the teaching methodology, student life and the career success of the school’s students and alumni. Most schools have comprehensive FAQs on their website, so be sure you review them prior to contacting a school with additional questions. Connecting with current students and alumni are also a great way to get to know the school. For example, Tuck offers student and alumni-hosted events including informal coffee chats throughout the year and Tuck Connections, which is an online program that matches prospective students with current students and alumni based on the best profile match. Check online to see if schools offer ways to connect with students or alumni, whether it be through online chats, local networking events in your area, or at formal school-hosted events. It’s also worth reaching out to your connections through LinkedIn and Facebook to identify people in your network who may know students or alums at the schools you are considering. Lastly, there are many online resources for conducting general MBA research.

How can prospective students best leverage social media to learn about a program or a school? What should they definitely avoid?

PV: I would recommend visiting the official school social media sites where they can find a wealth of information about daily life in the program and at the school as well as interacting with the school via these sites and asking questions. I would also advise candidates to be wary of placing too much importance on personal blogs and the personal opinion of one person but rather to look at different social media sites as well as speaking to someone from the school and alumni for a balanced picture.

MM: To learn about a school through social media, prospective students should ensure they subscribe to the feeds of those schools. That way, if for example, a school has just released a new blog post, the prospective student will know right away and will not have to worry about missing any content that can potentially help in making one’s b-school decision. Prospective students can also use social media as a platform to interact with a school and its admissions committee. For example, a prospective student can tweet to a school’s admissions team, a question they have. For schools that actively monitor their social media feeds, this can sometimes mean the prospective student will then receive a response in a matter of hours rather than days.  Because social media platforms are so open and visible to others, prospective students should avoid sharing anything on social media that they wouldn’t otherwise share with the admissions team in person. Before posting anything on social media, prospective students should ask themselves if they would be comfortable sharing this with the admissions committee (or even prospective employers) in person. If the answer is no, avoid posting it. However, prospective students should not be afraid to use social media to connect with multiple schools at once. Doing an MBA is a big decision and prospective students are completely in their right to explore all of their options fully. Business schools understand this and will not penalize prospective students for doing their research.

ML: Prospective students should try to vary the sources they consult on social media. Reaching 100% alumni satisfaction is not realistic and you may get one unhappy student/graduate (because they did not get the grades they thought they should have, or did not get the job they wanted because of unrealistic expectations) who will bias all their answers negatively. Avoid trusting only one source.

NG: Follow the schools you are interested in on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other mainstream social media sites. Social media is a great way to stay informed of school news and announcements, faculty research and news, media hits, and upcoming events. Prospective students should avoid reaching out to schools to share their ‘profile’ in order to get a gauge on their admissibility. A school admissions professional generally will never estimate the likelihood of being admitted based on a Facebook message outlining a candidate’s GMAT score, GPA, years of work experience, etc. Also be careful not to over-engage or overshare with a school via social media.  

Have you introduced any innovations in recent years in terms of providing information about your programs online? Are you planning any?

PV: Recently we’ve introduced a tool on LinkedIn as well an iPhone/iPad app (IEBS) which enable candidates to research the different programs available at IE according to their profile. We also have an app which allows candidates to easily download our brochures as well as an interactive Facebook tool for financial aid and events.

MM: In an effort to help prospective students from around the world get a better sense of the Rotman experience, a substantial amount of content that Rotman previously only offered in-person (therefore requiring a visit to Toronto) has been made available online, so prospective students can check out this content on their own time in the comfort of home, wherever home may be. We mentioned earlier that prospective students can tour our campus via Google Maps, sit in on virtual webinars and hear from our professors, students and guest speakers on YouTube. Sample classes, panels and info sessions from our annual open house are all available online, as is our seminar on how to finance your MBA.

ML: We have multiplied the number of online information sessions. We feel that these sessions are ideal to chat with potential students and answer specific questions. We also have Twitter and FB pages for applicants where they can get answers from alumni, current students or recruitment staff.

Are there any untapped online resources prospective students are not using as much as they could?

PV: I think that many candidates could make better use of social media in order to contact alumni from the schools in which they are interested and to find out more about daily life at the school. LinkedIn for example is a great way to connect with alumni and Twitter can be a fantastic way to learn more about daily events at a school.

MM: Prospective students should take advantage of the social media platforms as they can help considerably. Engaging a school via social media can be a creative means to make one stand out in a very competitive applicant pool. As mentioned, schools can often respond faster to questions and comments via social media rather than email. As well, if a prospective student finds an admissions committee member for one of their target schools on LinkedIn, they should not be afraid to email them directly! We are always excited to meet prospective students and it is our job to answer your questions and help you become as informed as possible.

NG: Reading official school and student blogs are a great resource. One of the things prospective students could benefit from is posting well-informed comments or questions to blog posts that resonate with them. While we see plenty of traffic coming to the Tuck 360: MBA Blog, we rarely see comments or questions posted. Not only is the blog a good place to ask specific questions about a topic a student or staff member has written about, the questions and comments we see often provide ideas for future blog posts.

When it comes to nonofficial online resources, do prospective students need to be wary? Or is it the other way around – are nonofficial resources underused by overcautious students?

PV: A good approach would be to look at nonofficial and official sources as this will provide a balanced perspective. However, when it comes to researching information about the program and the school I believe the best sources to look towards are official sites as well as speaking with school representatives, alumni and current students.  

MM: Regardless of the nonofficial resource, prospective students should be wary of the context. Some examples: The methodology used by different publications to rank business schools varies considerably. Understanding how a rankings list was created will help a prospective student better understand what a ranking actually measures and therefore be better informed about business schools themselves. Imagine the scenario of two student bloggers: Blogger A continuously writes positive articles about her school while Blogger B is often critical of his school. At first glance, one may think Blogger A’s school is better than Blogger B’s. However, Blogger A got the summer internship of her dreams while Blogger B had challenges in his internship search.  Knowing this context, it probably makes sense that Blogger B was critical of his school because he was unhappy to begin with (while perhaps everyone else in his school did get the internship of their dreams!). The reverse could be true at Blogger A’s school as well!  The point is, think critically about what you read online and consider the context in which content is written before using that content to inform your opinion about a business school.

ML: I believe that too much information can be as bad as not enough information when it comes to nonofficial resources. I think that prospective students should focus on a few specific elements. They should ask if the program philosophy fits with their learning and professional objectives. They should look at the top rankings (at least four or five) because criteria differ from one to the other, the same applies to accreditation bodies. Finally they should look at placement rates provided by schools as well as speaking to alumni.

NG: One way to determine whether a nonofficial online resource is likely to be a good place for prospective students to gain insight into schools is to look at where the content on the site is coming from. If a site features interviews, guest blog posts, videos, online chats or other content that a school has provided or participated in, it’s generally a good bet that the site is a trustworthy resource. Personal blogs can be tricky since they can be shaded by personal opinion or experience, so it’s best to proceed with a little caution.  


This article was originally published in May 2016 . It was last updated in July 2019

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