Tuesday, September 09, 2014 at 5pm

7 Ways to Determine Business School Culture

Choosing a business school

Between the time you start thinking about pursuing an MBA program and actually registering for your first class, there will be many opportunities to interact with the school you will eventually select. Take time to have those interactions and make the most of each moment with information sessions, and networking events. Doing so will make you feel more confident about your choice, especially when you have to choose between several top-ranked programs. This is your chance to find a business school culture that not only caters to your professional goals, but also to your learning style, work-life schedule and values.

Looking into a MBA program is like a job interview. You’ve spent time researching companies and exploring their websites. You may have even spoken with current employees to better understand the work environment. That latter part is equally critical when choosing a business school culture.

Think about it: your business school culture is going to be part of you forever. Your business school peers will likely make up a larger part of your network than most other groups. You will be associating with them very regularly from one to five years depending on which MBA program you’re thinking about pursuing. Then, after you graduate, you’ll be attending alumni events sponsored by the local alumni chapter wherever you live. These connections will be with you now – and for the rest of your life.

Okay, so now you’re ready and eager to interact with the people associated your future MBA program and business school culture. Where should you start? Here are three places you may already know about and four you may not have thought about:

1. Go to information sessions and networking events

If a school you’re considering is hosting an event near you, go to it. Networking events are one of the easiest ways to show them you’re interested and to learn more about the school. These networking events usually have a small presentation and literature that will give you insights into what the school can offer you. That information paired with your interactions with the schools’ representatives will help you identify the strengths and culture of the school and its MBA program.

For example, one of the tidbits I picked up at one of their information sessions was that the online program offered by the Kelley School of Business does well in markets with heavy commute times. I could appreciate that as a Chicagoan who often sat in traffic for an hour to travel 20 miles and immediately understood the value of flexibility in a program. At the information session, I was excited to learn that there were alternatives to sitting in traffic for hours every week to attend classes downtown.

2. Meet with students and alumni

Ask the school for contacts to current students and alumni and spend time with them. Ideally, you want to find people working in the field that you want to be in after you graduate.

Keep in mind - most students and alumni of top ranked MBA programs will tell you they had a positive experience, because a top school often delivers. Dig deeper and ask about things such as accessibility of professors, how competitive or collaborative classmates are, how often students were willing to get together outside of class. If possible, meeting them in person will let you pick up on body language. You obviously can’t judge the entire program based off  one or two people, but it’s more useful data that you would not get from an email conversation.

3. Be prepared to interview the school

An interview is obviously the school’s opportunity to get to know more about you, but it is also your chance to learn more about the school and the program. Be prepared to interview with a student in the program and a staff member. You should have questions ready for both scenarios.

Going to networking events or information sessions and speaking with several students before the interview is a great way to prepare. Do your research to show that you’re genuinely interested. Just as any company will ask you why you want to work for them, a school will do the same. Speaking to how your values and goals align with a school’s culture will go a long way.

4. Attend lectures and speak with professors

The business school classroom is the easiest way to get access to some of the brightest minds in business. Just so we’re on the same page, I am referring to the faculty. Most schools will allow you to attend a live lecture as an applicant. Do it! Whether it is online or in person, this will show you what you are signing up for. You can observe the level of interaction between the professor and students, how often people ask questions and how many students are there before and after class socializing. You’ll never know that type of information without being there.

Remember, every professor is different, so you can’t assume every class will be the same. However, many school’s faculty meet to discuss how to improve the classroom experience, so it is likely that there is some form of standardization.

Don’t forget to meet with the professor and students after the class ends.  Get their emails and ask permission to get in touch with them later, too.

5. Speak with staff

You may or may not have thought of calling up the admissions team, but there are many other staff members that you might work with while you’re earning your MBA who can give you more insights. The school’s admissions staff begins interacting with all students at the beginning and continues through graduation and beyond. They might be able to introduce you to students or alumni in your industry or city where you begin forming connections to help your career or friendship. Some may participate during orientation or introduction sessions, introduce you to the career development department of the school, or help you plan your study.

My point being: almost everyone will meet with the admission team, but talking to other staff, student advisors and career counselors will get you answers to more specific questions that may help you select one program over another.

6. Attend alumni events

Before I started on my MBA journey, I was fortunate enough to work for a couple of MBAs who invited me to their alumni events such as socials, marketing roundtables and lectures. Those helped me interact with other alumni of the schools I was considering. Ask around in your company or search on LinkedIn to see if there are any MBAs. Then find an upcoming alumni event and tell them you want to attend because you’re interested in the program. The event organizers shouldn’t have any issues as long as the alumni notify them in advance (some events can be exclusive or require registration).

Going to this type of event will give you an understanding of what your experience might be like after you graduate – which is a much longer portion of your life than while you’re actually getting the MBA.

7. Follow schools on social media

I saved the best for last. Kidding of course, but here are some tips on how you can use social to your advantage. Start with the school’s blog. There should be a way to subscribe to all new posts. The blog is usually a great place to read students’ first-hand experiences with different aspects of the program.

Follow your target schools and join their groups on LinkedIn. This will keep you privy to the news and events there and sometimes even the jobs that the school is sharing with their alumni. If you can participate in a private cohort group, you can introduce yourself and start getting to know others before classes start. See who the students are in the program, what kind of titles they have, and where they work – networking is important.

Next, go to Twitter and follow the schools you’re interested in. See which hashtags they use and follow those too. Also check out this list of 25 hashtags for MBA students. Replying to a school’s tweets should get a schools attention quickly.

In addition to the types of things you’ll see on Twitter, following schools on Facebook will give you access to photos from events. If your target school is using the events tab on their Facebook page then you will also be able to see their upcoming events. 

Pathik Bhatt is the Associate Director of Interactive Recruiting at the Kelley School of Business where he is also pursuing his online MBA and MS in Business Analytics. Pathik has 6 years of online, social media, and content marketing experience, and enjoys writing about his MBA journey when he’s not studying or attending classes: http://bit.ly/TyvD09. You can follow him on twitter: @Pathik_Bhatt, or connect with him on LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1wdvpgM.