Ever wondered what admissions officers are really thinking when you ask them for help learning more about their school? My friend and former colleague Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, has graciously shared her advice about how to investigate the alumni network at your target schools. She also gives invaluable insight about how to interact with admissions officers.

Amy wrote this blog exclusively for North Star readers, and it is the first in a series of insider tips, written for North Star by admissions officers from top MBA programs.

Understanding Alumni Networks – by Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, Tuck

It might be difficult to think this far into the future, as GMAT prep and essay writing are front and center, but I dare suggest that getting to know the alumni of your future MBA program should also top your MBA application process to-do list.

The alumni network is as unique as each MBA program you are applying to and alumni have paved the way for your future path in an MBA program. Devoting some time and energy to this dimension of your application process will help to inform your perceptions (and essays and future interviews!) about a program.

How do you do this?

  • First, do some real research on your desired MBA program and take time to reflect on your future choice. Approach these actions with the goal in mind of developing some thoughtful questions about your program of interest. These questions will not only show the admissions team that you are thoughtful; you will also learn something in the process.
  • You can start your research by looking at school websites or by reading an article written by MBA faculty. Look at more than the headlines on a website. Read student testimonials, blog posts, and watch faculty videos. There is real information behind each tab. Return to the website periodically. Many schools work hard to deliver new content on a frequent basis. You may also be able to access an alumni tab with articles, events, and career information that shines a light on your future network.
  • Reflection is a more personal exploration that will require some quiet time (or long walk with headphones and your favorite inspirational music) or a coffee with your best friend or mentor. If you are in the application process now, you have likely experienced an “aha moment” that has led you to this blog and others. This moment is the seed of why you want an MBA. Answering this “why” question is something I often see candidates neglect to do. Knowing why you want an MBA can help you stand out in the application process, and some healthy self-reflection will help you arrive at a genuine answer.

Next, be specific.

  • Asking an admissions officer, “Can you connect me with your alumni?” is not enough. This is too broad. Schools have thousands of alumni in every different geography and industry. Help me narrow the search. Give me a reason to go out on a limb for you when you are not yet an admitted student. Through research and reflection you will understand who you want to connect with and why that conversation will be important to your way forward.
  • Schools often have more passive means of making connections as well. Create a profile on a school website and provide some information on your background and areas of interest. During the active admissions cycle, Tuck provides prospective applicants with an opportunity to be connected with alumni via online matching. Check to see if the schools on your interest list offer this opportunity.

Finally, remember quality not quantity.

  • Please do not ask me for one alumnus contact……and then ask for 5 more. Obtaining the first contact and then running with it shows focus and independence in the application process. I will be thrilled to hear of your progress, but I will feel hounded if your email is always something for my to-do list. Use your current network to build toward future connections in a sincere and deliberate way. This will bring success and understanding (and a feeling of accomplishment!) around getting to know the alumni network of your future MBA program.
  • MBA alumni are all around you. If you are able, open up to your professional peer group and tell them you are pursuing an MBA. Do they have their MBA? Do they have friends who have MBAs? Find out if there are people in your company, at your alma mater, or at your gym who have an MBA. Ask to be connected. This will be an easy ask!
  • Be genuine, thoughtful, and ask good questions! Making thoughtful connections with your desired program speaks volumes for you in all interactions. Soon you will be able to answer the committee’s questions with examples of firsthand experiences that translate into stories that will be memorable!

Best of Luck!