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What International Applicants Need to Know About MBA Fairs

Are you looking to attend a top-ranked business school? For MBA candidates in most of the world, if you want to go to a world-class b-school, you’re going to have to travel.

The top 10 MBA programs, according to the Financial Times, are all in the United States or Western Europe. Of the top 20 programs, eleven are in the US, two in the UK, five in Europe (read: France or Spain), and two in China. So unless you live in a few select areas, you’re almost certain to have to pack your bags and move when it comes time to attend business school.

That can make things challenging for international applicants who want to do their due diligence when it comes to deciding on which schools to target. While it’s possible to do a good deal of research online, there’s no substitute for a face-to-face conversation with people who really understand the admissions process, and who know what life is like at the school.

That’s where MBA fairs come in. For more than 20 years, MBA fairs have allowed business school candidates from all across the world to make connections with faculty, alumni, and admissions committee members from their target schools.

So if you’re an international student who is thinking about attending an MBA fair, here’s what you need to know to make the most of your experience:

What is an MBA fair?

Many top business schools offer individual admissions events at key locations worldwide. But when it comes to true MBA fairs, which gather together representatives from many different schools, there are two names you need to know: The MBA Tour and the QS World MBA Tour.

Both tours offer broadly the same setup: evening and weekend events where candidates who are interested in attending an MBA program can meet representatives of several different schools, learn about the admissions process, and network with other MBA candidates.

However, the specifics of the events vary significantly from city to city, so it is important to look at the options in your area to determine which event – or events – are right for you. For example, The MBA Tour’s event in Bangalore, to be held on Wednesday, Sept. 30, will feature representatives from 32 schools, panel discussions on preparing your application and discovering MBA programs that suit your career goals, school presentations, and open networking time. Their event in Dubai, however, is slated to feature just eight schools, and will not have as many panel discussions or as much networking time.

Who should attend an MBA fair?

If you are even slightly interested in pursuing an MBA, you can find something of value at an MBA fair, even if it’s just an opportunity to network with other professionals in your region.

However, these fairs can be particularly valuable for students who are just starting to think about business school. The opportunity to get an overview of so many different schools, and to learn about what admissions committees are looking for in a successful applicant, can help early-career attendees shape some of their professional decisions in the coming years.

MBA fairs can also be extremely beneficial for candidates who are actively applying to MBA programs, as they allow applicants the opportunity to make a personal connection with admissions committees. There are many admissions directors who have stories of meeting, and being impressed by, candidates at MBA fairs who were later admitted to their schools.

How should you prepare for an MBA fair?

If you’re reading this, then you already understand that attending an MBA fair is a rare and valuable opportunity, and one you should take seriously if you are truly interested in business school. This is not the kind of event that you show up to on a whim.

The most important part of preparing for an MBA fair is to do your research. First, you’ll need to know the details of the event you’re attending. As we mentioned earlier, events can be very different in different cities.

Often, both The MBA Tour and the QS World MBA Tour will have events in a given city; for example, the former will be in Milan on Sept. 18, 2017 and the latter on Oct. 17, 2017. The MBA Tour event in Milan will focus more on individual school presentations, preparing your application, and pre-scheduled meetings. The QS MBA event will focus more on preparing for the GMAT and on open networking, and will likely have a larger list of schools represented. Researching before an MBA fair will help you determine which topics will be covered, so you can tailor your questions accordingly.

The second part of your research should focus on the schools who will be present at the event you’re planning to attend. Whether you’re just starting to think about business school or in the middle of application season, you should have at least an idea of the schools you are most interested in.

This may be your only opportunity to get face time with the admissions committee before you apply, so don’t waste it by asking a question that could be easily answered by googling. When you take the time to ask an in-depth question about the school’s community or the qualities of successful candidates, you’ll be much more likely to make a favorable and lasting impression on the admissions committee. Remember, be specific and focused, not vague and open-ended!

What should you expect at an MBA fair?

Ultimately, an MBA fair is your chance to get up close and personal with your target business schools. It’s important to go in with an open mind, and be open to learning more about the process (and about schools you might not have been considering). You should expect to learn more about the brand of the schools at the fair, and about what they look for in successful MBA candidates.

What you should not do is treat an MBA fair like a job fair. Do bring copies of your resume and business cards in case adcom members ask for them; don’t try to give a hard sell of your entire application. This is not a chance for you to talk at people about why you’re perfect for their school – it’s a mutual learning opportunity. There are some fairs where pre-scheduled individual meetings are a part of the agenda, and if you have one of those meetings scheduled, it is appropriate to get a bit more specific about your candidacy.

Finally, make sure that you get contact information for everyone you interact with at an MBA fair. Following up with a sincere thank-you note after the craziness of the fair has died down is a great way to cement your connection with the people you met, and help you to stand out from the crowd.