10 top tips to have a great MBA fair visit

I’ve been to my fair share of MBA fairs, not so much as a prospective applicant (I hated them, they were too busy), but as a student representing LBS I’ve been to a few. I love doing them, but can’t help but think that a few hints and tips would help make the fair-experience a better one. So here’s the best advice I’ve got on attending MBA fairs:

1. Be on time. There’s a lot of ground to cover (unless that is, you’ve got your heart set on going to school X and don’t care about anything else), and you want to take your time. Some of the fairs are very popular and it might take a little while to get to speak to someone. Another timing aspect: a lot of people go to the panels that are organized, so those are great times to speak to some people at the booths in person.
2. Be prepared. The fairs only last a few hours, so you want to pack in as much as possible. Try and get an idea of which schools will attend, what panels will be given etc. Also, the fair is an excellent opportunity to find out more about Bschools, but only if you know what you’re looking for. A little preparation goes a long way. More on preparation in the following points.
3. Dress nicely, wear comfortable shoes and bring a bag big enough to carry a fair number of brochure. Don’t wear a suit (unless there’s a good reason to, like you’re coming straight from an investment bank). Business casual is fine. And wear comfy shoes, you’ll be doing a lot of standing/walking around. The bag thing only goes if you’re like me, a packrat. There’s tons of information brochures out there, so come prepared. Worst thing is lugging a stack around and feeling your arm go numb.
4. If you don’t know anything about a school, don’t make it up. It’s fine if this is your first fair and you have no clue and you just want to find out about this MBA thing. Or that you’re tagging along with a friend who had to go to the bathroom and now you happen to be standing next to me. But tell me. And ask if it’s alright you ask some more generic questions. Don’t pretend (I did this with a big US school and it didn’t work, they caught me out) to be highly knowledgeable if you’re not. It’s embarassing and awkward for the person you’re talking to.
5. Prepare your elevator pitch. Most schools are very busy, so you might only have a few minutes. Try and make the most of them. Think of a few interesting questions (and no, asking if you should retake a 720 GMAT is NOT interesting, it’s annoying), stuff that you can’t glean from brochures/websites. Something in the vein of ‘what do you like best about school X?’, ‘which club is the most active on campus and what types of things do they organize?’ and ‘what’s your favourite social activity at the school?’ or ‘what’s the one thing that will really help my application?’. When talking to students or alumns, you could always go the experience track: ‘what courses did you love best?’, ‘what’s the one experience that I shouldn’t miss in my time as an MBA?’, ‘what courses did you wish you’d have taken but didn’t?’.  You get the idea. Also make sure that you can explain your background in 30 seconds. Following on that…
6. Please be interesting and interested. Admissions people and the students that help out at these events speak to literally tons of people. They like to hear something personal, something that makes you stand out. An interesting hobby, an idea about a venture you want to start etc. Something your passionate about. Make it interesting. And be interested when someone tells you something. Please don’t be another face in the crowd.
7. Say thank you. You’d be surprised how many prospectives take the admissions officers and the students for granted. Say thank you. They just spent 15 minutes of their life answering your questions, and they do that because they want to help. Two words go a long way.
8. Don’t be rude or insulting. Yeah, kinda obvious, I know. But you’d be surprised how many people look at my badge and say ‘oh, no, I don’t want to talk to a student, I only talk to adcom’… guess how that makes me feel. Or stick a CV in my face. I don’t want your CV. 
9. If you like what you saw/heard, follow up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. A short thank you email goes a long way. And you can ask a few questions that you might’ve thought of in the meantime (but always ask if it’s alright, don’t push yourself on the person). Even better if you have something to give back (in my case I talked to a girl in Marketing, who in her thank you email recommended an interesting book). Do it because it’s what your mum taught you (always be polite) and because you never know when you might need this person.
10. Last but not least: Listen! You’d be amazed how many people ask questions without listening to the answer. I’ve had my share of people insisting that LBS is a finance school (we’re not) and wouldn’t budge, no matter what I said. Remember there are people on the other side of the table, not just ‘admissions’ or ‘students’.

I hope these will help you get the most out of you MBA fair experience (and make my life a little easier ;-)

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5 thoughts on “10 top tips to have a great MBA fair visit

  1. I represented my school at a fair in Boston and can second these comments.
    A friend and I went as a favor to the head of admissions, who we both know well. She was actually surprised at how outgoing we were and how many people were willing to open us to us.
    I think #4 above is the most important. Don’t fake it. Don’t lie about your reasons for going to B-school (or your lack of reasons, if that is the case.) It is very easy for people to pick up on this sort of thing. Be honest and share some small nugget about yourself. This is the best way to get noticed and make yourself memorable.

  2. Very good advices!, i’ll be at new york next week at one of those fairs. Just a question about #3 (dress informally), I guess that it is ok to dress a suit if you have a formal interview, right? what do you think?

  3. JeffD: completely agree! I love how LBS always tries to include students and alumns in their fairs and presentations, I think they are a nice addition to the adcom team.
    Daniel: If you have a formal interview, I would probably wear business, but if you don’t have an interview just come as you are.

  4. hey!
    long time reader here.. just went to the topMBA fair here in toronto last night, and had a great time talking to the LBS alums there. soo excited about putting in my app! working on the finishing touches now!
    just wanted to say thanks for the posts, this one was great for me especially. and lucky you for getting to experience both london and new york.
    sumitv

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