The adage “there’s no such thing as a dumb question” may not hold true when applying to business school to earn an MBA, especially when information can be found online, experts say.
“Be under no illusions when you are meeting these schools for the first time,” says Sam Weeks, a college admissions consultant based in Amsterdam. “They are already making judgements about the quality of your candidature. To go in and ask dumb questions about things that could be found online is not a good first impression. It shows a lack of preparation in terms of applying to MBAs generally…and it also shows you haven’t done your research into that particular school.” And that can undermine your application later, he says.
Bailey McChesney, director of MBA admissions at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, says B-school candidates attending admissions events “will want to tailor the questions they ask MBA recruiting and admissions teams based on the specific needs for the next step in their unique process.”
“If the school has carved out time to meet with you, out of respect you would be expected to have researched the program just as you would if you are meeting a company or interviewer for a job,” Weeks says.
Here are three key questions to ask at MBA admissions events, along with some insight from experts, plus 15 other questions they recommend asking.
What’s the Strength of Your Program?
The answer to this question can help a candidate visualize if the school matches their personal goals, McChesney says.
“Depending on where the candidate is in the process of exploring programs, they may already have some context on this question,” she says. “In a situation where the candidate has already researched programs, they could instead ask a question that may help them narrow down their options.”
An example of this would be to ask: “What differentiates your program from other MBA programs?” Weeks says this question helps focus on a particular category of classes.
“The school could say, ‘We’re very strong on entrepreneurship, or we’re very strong on finance or we put a lot of people into consulting.’ All schools have a reputation in one of these areas,” he says.
On the other hand, Weeks cautions, such a question may be uncomfortable “because schools have to acknowledge where they are strong and where they are weak. That’s not really a dialogue you want to have with a school as you go in and meet them.”
How Can I Meet Others Connected With the Program?
Being able to engage with current MBA students and faculty can help you get a better sense of what it would be like to be part of a particular program.
“This question may be appropriate after the applicant has attended one of our events and wanted to speak with an alum in a specific field,” says Lenore Grant, senior director of graduate business recruitment and admissions at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California.
Asking the question too early in the application process might be unwise, Grant says, since there are numerous opportunities to connect with current students, faculty and staff.
“It is great for candidates to want to connect with the program, and frequently, schools will have ways to do this readily available on their website,” McChesney says.
A better way to phrase the question, McChesney suggests, may be: “I have done X and am looking for more information on Y. What should be my next step to engage with your program?” She says such phrasing “showcases the candidate’s interest and can provide insight into where gaps might be in the information-gathering process, as well as the opportunities the school has for candidates to learn more.”
How Can I Address a Possible Weakness in My Application?
“If an applicant has attended an event and had a specific question about a specific weakness, this would be good in a 1:1 advising session,” Grant says.
It’s also good to address a likely weakness when writing the personal statement, she says. “An example would be where a GPA was low or there was a gap in education and employment due to illness or other factors beyond their control.”
Grant adds that there are other ways to compensate for an application weakness. “The applicant could take additional coursework, such as a quantitative course or boot camp to demonstrate quantitative proficiency. This is especially useful to offset low math grades or a low quant score on the GMAT.”
Applicants with lower than average work experience can highlight other school or community leadership experience, she says. “Most ‘weaknesses’ in an application can also be offset by a high GMAT score. Also, retaking a low GMAT demonstrates the applicant’s willingness to put in the work to strengthen their application.”
McChesney notes that many schools will answer application-related questions, including possible weaknesses, through webinars or other resources.
Other Good Questions to Ask
Weeks, Grant and McChesney recommend 15 other questions worth asking MBA admissions officers:
- What is the student experience like in your program?
- How do students engage with your career center?
- What career resources are available to business school students and alums?
- Are there ways students can get involved with clubs or extracurricular activities?
- What is the culture or community like, and is it collaborative or competitive?
- Are faculty primarily researchers or teaching professors?
- Do you have student teaching assistants or are all classes taught by professors?
- How much admissions weight do you put on work experience vs. grades and test scores?
- What can I do between now and the start of the program to get the most of the MBA experience?
- What new specializations or courses are in development?
- How do you define student success?
- How and when can I visit the school?
- How can I connect with other incoming students?
- What GMAT or GRE score do I need to be competitive for your program?
- What scholarship opportunities are available?
Weeks suggests applicants always be prepared to ask questions during the interview.
“The fact is no matter how much research you’ve done,” he says, “the interviewer can always provide more insight.”