Showing Rather Than Telling on an MBA Experience Day |

Showing Rather Than Telling on an MBA Experience Day

By Tim Dhoul

Updated August 15, 2014 Updated August 15, 2014


Many top schools – Imperial, Cass and Ashridge Business School are examples – welcome prospective students on campus for a form of MBA open day (or open house) known as an experience day.

How does an experience day differ from a regular open day at a business school’s campus? Well, presentations and lectures outlining what a school’s MBA program will involve are gently pushed aside in favor of giving attendees a taste of how a working interactive classroom at the school might play out.

“I’m a big believer in showing people what you offer rather than simply telling them,” says Phil Carter, head of marketing and recruitment at Imperial College Business School. In so doing, an event such as this aims to enable MBA applicants to get a better insight into whether the MBA is right for them.

Targeting later stage applicants more than a regular open day

An experience day isn’t intended to take the place of a regular open day – it offers something different to a different audience. The interactive classroom element calls for a much smaller pool of participants and suits those who have already conducted much of their business school research and are keen to get going as soon as possible.

Carter explains how an experience day runs alongside an open day (for those in the early throes of their MBA research) and an admissions day (for those coming on campus for MBA admissions interviews) in the Imperial College Business School calendar. He says the school tries to squeeze an interactive lecture into any open day, but there isn’t a great deal you can realistically cover in this way.

The experience day, on the other hand, gives over its focus to replicating the MBA’s interactive classroom environment to provide candidates with something they can really “get their teeth into,” according to Carter, who adds: “This really is targeted at someone who wants to start this year.”

Susan Lawrance, head of marketing and admissions at Ashridge Business School reaffirms how its experience day, known as ‘MBA in Day’, emphasizes the level of interaction that awaits you on an MBA.

“Candidates can get a real feel for how we teach and how we would expect them to interact with their classmates,” she says.

See how an MBA adds value says Ashridge Business School

Even if an experience day can only give a brief simulation of what’s to come if you enroll in a MBA, the firsthand insight has obvious benefits for those who have been mulling over a particular program. 

In Lawrance’s view for instance, it allows candidates to see, “how this could add value to their career.”

Helping students make a more informed decision on whether the program can impact on a person’s career goals is also a key advantage for Carter, who doesn’t want students at Imperial College Business School to realize the degree isn’t suited to them further down the line.

“Far better that they make this decision now than two months into the program,” he says.

Fortunately, it seems the majority of those who take part enjoy the exposure to an MBA’s working reality.

“We always get very good feedback on these sessions as the participants feel they have really played an active part in the day and also got to know their potential classmates,” says Lawrance.

Enjoyment at an experience day often ends up cementing a candidate’s commitment to the program – “we get a better conversion of people through this than just via the normal application route,” Carter confirms.

The one caveat to this is that an experience day, like any open day format, is much easier for home-based students to attend. However, neither Ashridge Business School nor Imperial suggests that international students would be at any disadvantage by not attending – more, it’s a convenient tool for those who are able to make use of it.

Organizing an interactive classroom experience

Issues of logistics also mean that the interactive classroom formed for a day might not be quite as internationally diverse as you’ll find once the real program gets underway.

Replicating the MBA environment necessitates mapping out groups in much the same way as will be done during the degree proper – ensuring as wide a spread of backgrounds as possible. In order to derive as much as possible from a one-day experience, this is often done in advance of the event.

“We seat participants ‘cabaret’-style in the room and we try to mix nationalities, industry backgrounds and preference for the full-time MBA, executive MBA or undecided,” enthuses Lawrance before acknowledging that, “we are able to include some geographical diversity, although not as wide as when our full-time students are in the classroom.”

Usage as part of the MBA admissions process

For those who can attend a business school open day such as these, there are also options to make the experience a part of the MBA admissions process.

Indeed, at Imperial College Business School, the experience day is actively offered as one MBA admissions path to securing a place at the school.

Citing the school’s normal use of two MBA admissions interviews – one with careers and one with faculty, Carter explains that observing candidates in the interactive classroom exercise and subsequent networking function that takes place at the experience day can be employed in lieu of the faculty interview. A half-hour careers interview also takes place the same day. 

“We’ll make a call on whether we’ve seen enough of the candidate or whether we might ask them back for a further and prolonged conversation,” he says.

“It’s a two-way thing, we are certainly assessing whether we think it’s the right MBA for them and whether they seem to have a realistic sense of where their existing experience – plus an MBA – will take them, but it’s a chance for them to get a feeling for the place and our services,” Carter continues.

At Ashridge Business School meanwhile, the event is not officially aligned with an MBA admissions procedure. Instead, the emphasis lies with attendees getting an introduction to the school’s teaching approach.

However, the choice to arrange an interview after the experience day’s proceedings is there for candidates who have already submitted their application. “This is particularly helpful for those who have travelled to Ashridge especially for the event, as a face-to-face interview is always better than online,” points out Lawrance.

Imperial College Business School’s upcoming case study

Lastly, what of the interactive classroom experience itself? Carter says that the challenges set by Imperial usually tilt towards topics that can offer a broad appeal - to avoid placing candidates possessing any related specialized knowledge at an unfair advantage.

This week’s example is negotiation. The challenge, according to Carter, “sets the scene of a case study where you have an English company and a French telecoms company who are looking at a takeover situation, or merger. The attendees will be put in a group scenario whereby they represent the board of one of the two companies.”

Those taking part will by now have already been sent reading material to prepare. Over the course of the three-hour workshop, groups discuss what they want to get out of the negotiation, negotiate, then debrief and discuss outcomes – just as would take place in a case study centered MBA class.

Preparation for this form of open day is therefore essential. Even if you are not being assessed, you will want to be cast in a good light in front of your potential business school community. However, by the time you reach the stage in your MBA application timeline at which these events aim, you should be more than ready to meet the challenge with open arms and maximize what you take from it. 

This article was originally published in July 2014 . It was last updated in August 2014

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).