Outside of formal school visits and information sessions, speaking with current students and alumni can be very helpful when you're applying to business school. These individuals will hopefully be very honest in sharing their experience.
They might describe an aspect of the school that they love, and you may find that it does not appeal to you. Some applicants are fortunate in that they are friends with, or work with, students and alumni from every school. Others will need to be more creative, perhaps by networking and speaking with friends-of-friends. You can also call or email your target business schools and ask to be connected with someone who may have similar interests. Or you can search online for contacts at relevant clubs and ask to speak with them. This will help to put you in touch with individuals who have similar academic interests and career goals.
Most schools will happily accommodate this request to help you do your research. When you have these conversations, make sure you have an agenda: know what you are looking for in a school and find out what your target schools have to offer. When it comes to informal networking, there are also some DON’Ts to consider:
Don’t harass your contacts!
They are taking time out of their extremely busy lives to help you. I have had clients excitedly forward me email correspondence that they have had with very accommodating contacts, and I cringe as I see the increasing number of anxious email pings as the applicant works to establishing a relationship. Limit your messages, and ensure each communication effort holds a purpose greater than rubbing shoulders with the individual.
Don’t forget to say thank you.
A show of appreciation can go a long way. If your contacts make time for you, be sure to show your gratitude.
Don’t make contact without purpose.
Have an agenda for your meeting or phone call, and stick to it. Your contact will expect you to have specific questions and will not appreciate an hour of chitchat.
Don’t leave them hanging.
Follow up and inform her of your results at the end of your process. This relationship may be valuable or enjoyable later on, so don’t kill it just because you are finished with your application.
Don’t just name drop.
Rather than ramble off a list of current students you spoke with at an information session in your essays, illustrate the new information you learned from her.
The bottom line: Current students or alums can help you learn about a program or possibly even put in a good word on your behalf. Manage these relationships carefully and with courtesy.
Editor's Note: To further polish your networking skills, check out "Six Common Networking Mistakes and How to Fix Them".