Focus on the Basics

A client recently expressed his distress about everything he had to do to be competitive in the MBA application process. He was especially worried that he would not have enough time to attend many MBA Fairs or Information Sessions and that would put him at a disadvantage. I don't believe that is necessarily true.

While attending these events can be beneficial in terms of getting first hand information and networking, your attendance will likely only give you a marginal benefit for the simple reason that anyone can attend, which means anyone can write about the experience in their essays or mention it during an interview. From an economic point of view then, the experience is not rare, which means it's value is relatively low, and you should not count on it to distinguish you from the thousands of other people that attend these events.

Also, MBA schools try very hard to evaluate applications fairly. So if you are developing a life-saving drug or leading a billion-dollar oil pipeline financing project or if you're a high-school teacher who doesn't have the time or money to attend or if you're a soldier in a war zone or live in a part of the world where there are no MBA Fairs or Information Sessions, the schools do not want to punish you by favoring the applications of those who could attend.

Does that mean there is no reason to attend? Of course not. The events can be fun, inspiring, and informative. You can meet alumni and other applicants who can support you in the process. There is a marginal benefit to attending, just as there is a marginal benefit to visiting schools. But in doing so, you should never sacrifice precious time for the basic things that will have a definite impact on your candidacy - your test scores, essays, interview preparation, even an important work or volunteer project that you can highlight in your application. Remember, if everyone can do it, chances are it's not that valuable. Instead, focus your time and effort on the things that will truly distinguish you. Questions?