By betsy On Wednesday, April 13 th, 2016 · no Comments · In
Alexandra Kenin of Wharton and me at last year's MBA panel

Recent Wharton grad and me at an MBA panel

Over the years I’ve received questions from prospective students on how to make a good impression with admissions officer.  Easy answer: be yourself. You either will impress someone or you won’t.  Remember, you aren’t trying to be Lady Gaga.

Spoiler alert! This article goes well against conventional wisdom advising students to impress admissions officers at public events, such as outreach sessions and MBA fairs.  I’ll get right to the point – your goal at these events is to find out information, not to make an impression.  These views are based on my own observations at having attended and run events with admissions officers for about the last nine years.

First, my conclusion:  throw away the entire idea of “trying to impress” an admissions officer.  Focus instead on learning.

Second, my rationale:  Although it is true that admissions officers do remember some of the people they meet, it is rarely because someone is trying hard to make an impression.  Furthermore, that memory may or may not positively influence an admissions decision.  It will largely be neutral, or in some cases, if you are just trying too hard, rather silly.

Third, when you are meeting admissions officers informally, it is not designed to be an assessment. Admissions officers are meeting you to spread the word about the school and its culture. That’s their job.  When they are out on the road, they are doing their best to give you information you cannot find out the website – and in a lot of ways, the best thing they can do is introduce you to students who are currently in the program or have recently graduated.

The Role of an Info Session

Info sessions are really that: filled with information.  They are not designed to be evaluative, and if you turn it into an admissions contest, you will fail.  I realize that admissions officers are people and they do have memories, and every impression needs to be positive, but you don’t have to try so hard.  In fact, the harder you try, the less you will hear what they have to say about how the school fits with you. Here are your handy Do’s & Don’ts:

DO: Listen

And listen actively. There’s a lot to learn at events, particularly during the presentation.  You can get a vibe for the kind of people who are on the stage representing the school. If it is an admissions officer, you can be that she’s talking from a script that’s been thought about *a lot* by people who are branding the school.

DO: Take Notes

If you are in the audience, rather than at a one-on-one, take down what strikes you. It’s amazing how this will help you later when you think about your impressions of a school, because they do tend to all blend together at a high level. The notes will help you figure out what struck you, and can guide you as to where you need to dig deeper

DO: Be Thoughtful about Your Questions

Some of the best questions come from active listening of the presenter.  If, for example, she is talking about a school’s focus on social enterprise, you might ask more specifics about what the school offers in terms of courses, for example. Or more importantly, you might ask what kind of career help the school might offer for people who are particularly interested in, say, a specific field in social entrepreneurship.

DO: Be Brief in Your Questions

Get right to the point in the question. I’ve seen people give a three paragraph intro to their question, only to have the presenter say, “What were you trying to ask?”  You’ve seen this happen in many venues, and it only draws attention to the questioner in a negative way.

DO: Take their Contact Information if Offered

Many admissions officers will give out business cards – take them! If you want to thank them for their presentation, or follow up with a short, thoughtful question, that you really need answered, why not?  From my own experience, I am never displeased to get a personal thank you from someone who has seen me speak. Nor do I mind if someone wants me to clarify on something I said, for example, a book or article recommendation.  But do not ask “what are my chances.”

DO: Network with Students and Alums

You can learn a lot more by getting to know students and alums, especially those you might have some connection with – for example – a former employer, your undergraduate school, or home town. They will often give you unvarnished truth, and can also offer insights about things you hadn’t thought to ask about.  You might even enjoy meeting them more because you will be more relaxed.

DON’T: Ask for an Assessment

Just don’t. There’s no real information there, and it just wastes their time. Again, from personal experience, if someone asks me about their chances in a public setting, all I can say is, “sure, you’ll do great!”  Might make you feel good, but it’s of little value.  Admissions officers spend a lot of time thinking about a candidate holistically.  Asking them to opine on your candidacy in two seconds is just bad manners.

 

DON’T: Try Too Hard

But if you do, don’t worry too much. They meet so many people, day in and day out, to be honest, it will all blend in. And if they do remember you, it will very likely be for the way you just “are.”  And hopefully, you don’t plan on changing that any time soon.

 

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