Destination Business School: What a Good MBA Fair Looks Like

Published: Sep 03, 2010

 Education       Grad School       

This month, business school candidates converged on New Yorkfor Kaplan's"Destination: Business School", a one-of-a-kind conferencefor aspiring MBAs. Kaplan billed thesummit as a new phase in its services, offering an immersive experience for B-schoolhopefuls. Its purpose was to address theuncertainties applicants face when considering business school--a decision notto be taken lightly.

MBA applicant handing her resume to an admissions officerTheprogramming underscored the importance of self-evaluation not only in applying,but in determining whether one is ready to enroll. To that end, the lectures, workshops andconsultations afforded attendees exclusive access to admissions officers andalumni from top schools via panel discussions and round-table chats. Participants were likewise encouraged tonetwork with fellow applicants, sharing insights that could inform their chosenpaths.

The two-day event hosted diverse attendees from a range ofbackgrounds and careers. While manyhailed from the New York area, a number came from as far away as Texas andCalifornia. Reflecting schools'increased preference for experienced applicants, few participants were recentgrads or current students; rather, the majority boasted years and even decadesof work experience on their resumes.

One such established professional was Vicky, a Long Islandmother with a business administration background. To resolve her uncertainty about attendingbusiness school, Vicky said she was attending the conference "tounderstand what business schools are really looking for--not just what's saidabout them on Twitter and Facebook."

Business schooladvice: from application to the classroom

Kaplan's Andrew Mitchell kicked off the conference with the "B-SchoolBlueprint" session. His tutorialaddressed both sides of the application process, from assessing desirableschools to the factors in developing a compelling application. If it seemed daunting to the audience,Mitchell also offered encouraging statistics: among MBAs, 66 percent achievedsalaries that met or exceeded expectation and 83 percent were altogethersatisfied with their career progress.

Subsequent courses walked attendees through the stages ofapplying and enrolling. A discussionpanel of admissions officers from top schools related the importance ofprofessionalism and maturity in drafting application essays. Those points were later elaborated upon inthe "Application Essay Clinic," helmed by former speechwriter JeremyShinewald. "Schools are getting toknow you as a human being," Shinewald opined. "You have to keep them learning aboutyou."

The Road to BusinessSchool MBA fair

The conference's centerpiece was its "Road to BusinessSchool" MBA fair, featuring 30 schools from around the country including YaleSOM, Vanderbilt Owen, Cornell'sJohnson School and Southern Methodist University CoxSchool. SMU's Patti Cudneyremarked of candidates, "I've seen a number of people who are moreexperienced. I talked to a couple peoplewho were on the younger side, and I definitely encouraged them to put somethought into why they feel now is a good time [to enroll]."

International opportunities were also represented by schoolsfrom England, the Netherlands and Australia. Manning the MelbourneBusiness School table was Pete Manasantivongs, also a graduate of theschool. "We've encountered somereally strong candidates," he said. "I've met half a dozen students withbackgrounds in international business, which is a really strong fit for ourprogram. I've been really pleased tomeet them."

Lessons learned by MBAapplicants and business schools

MBA students have many career paths to choose fromBen Baron, a former Kaplan executive, was also onhand to lecture. Describing hisacceptance to HarvardBusiness School, Baron emphasized using one's unique traits as astudent. "The experience you bringis what your professors will rely on, and they'll look to you to be an expert. So I was the retail expert," Baronrecounted. Along with his story, heoffered five points of advice for MBA hopefuls: Give yourself options;determine what is important to you; understand your decision-making process;recognize the factors involved; and live with no regrets.

When asked what lessons he hoped to impart to attendees, Mr.Baron stated, "The path they choose is their own. They all bring unique strengths to the process,and they shouldn't try to conform to anyone else's expectations." He added, "We talk about how to brandyourself. How do you tell your storyeffectively? Which anecdotes do you tellto highlight your strengths? Ifcandidates do that, they have an opportunity to enhance their prospects."

That concept of enhancing a candidate's prospects was thedriving force behind the entire event, according to host Andrew Mitchell. "The goal was to provide an intense,two-day agenda for people who are very serious about business school, and givethem an edge," he said. "Wewant to create a complete experience, especially so that these applicants canreally nail down their strategy."

Overall, Mitchell deemed the event a success, and expressed confidencethat more will follow. "This is thefirst Destination: Business School, it's a new voyage, and we're thrilled abouthow it turned out. It's a little earlyto say whether we're going to hold one again soon, but given that all theparticipants seemed to appreciate it, there's a pretty good chance we'll doanother in the future."

--Written by Alex Tuttle