Friday, August 1, 2014

What questions to ask admissions officers

I was recently sent a message from an applicant regarding what questions to ask current students, alumni, and admissions officers. If you follow my blog or my posts on GMATClub, you've probably noticed my repeated advice to network, network, network. Reach out to people to truly learn about each program, beyond what's on the school's website. But, what should you actually ask them?

I had this same question myself last year. And when I asked, I was told to just ask whatever you want to know to help make the best decision about where to apply and ultimately/hopefully matriculate. That advice was incredibly unhelpful. I already knew where I wanted to apply. By that point, I just wanted advice that would help me get in. I was past the stage of trying to determine "fit."

I can write a post later about finding your fit, but this post is for those of you who fall into the latter category and just want advice to make yourself stand out.

The point of asking questions to admissions officers (in my opinion) is to start to establish a connection and hopefully leave them with a rough memory of you.

  • Briefly share something interesting about yourself (this is basically your elevator pitch)
  • Connect your personal details to your question (this is how you can share your elevator pitch without sounding obnoxious. There has to be a reason that you are sharing this info. The reason, if you've prepared well, is that you have a relevant question to ask.)
  • Show that you have already done some research about the program (For example, if you were interested in international development, you could ask a Duke Fuqua admissions rep about the new campus opening in Asia)
  • Be sure to follow-up with a "It was great meeting you at XYZ event" type of email. Later, if you have other questions, you can continue to reply through the same email thread. This will help the adcom gradually start to remember you, or at least to have a record of you. For example, if you meet an admissions officer from Cornell at a Forte Forum in September, then in October, you could send the rep another email letting them know that you will be visiting the school and perhaps ask for recommendations on what to see/do while in Ithaca. 
  • Ask a question that could be answered with info from the school's website
  • Ask a question that doesn't positively support your candidacy 
  • Ask questions that can be quickly answered with a "Yes" or "No" response. Rather, aim for open-ended questions that will stimulate a (brief) discussion.
  • Lastly, be respectful of their time. Once you've asked your questions and shared a bit about yourself, kindly excuse yourself.
A few question ideas:
  • If interested in entrepreneurship, you could ask a HBS admissions officer about the Rock Center or the Harvard iLab.
  • If interested in management consulting, you could as a Darden admissions officer about the new careeer service partnership with McKinsey.
  • If interested in a non-traditional field, you could ask about opportunities for students to take classes in other departments/programs while enrolled at the b-school (be sure to only about about programs that are a strength of the university. For example, HBS and the GSB both have world-class schools of education. Since I'm interested in business and ed, this was a great way to mention my unique career goals, while gaining more info about the programs). Or ask, what career placement resources are in place for students interested in pursuing non-traditional post-MBA positions, i.e. opportunities within the education sector?
  •  If you can't think of anything more original, you can always ask what advice they have for applicants and what they think is the biggest misconception of the program.

These are just a few ideas to help structure your questions.


  1. A very decent list of suggested questions. So far all the sessions I have attended, I feel sorry when applicants treat adcom like psychic. I have a XXX GMAT score, I have X years of experience in so and so Industry, X.X Gpa, what are my chances????? They are wasting a brilliant chance with no value add. Hopefully a few of them will read this post and realize there are relevant questions which can be asked.

  2. Really enjoyed this post! Very helpful

  3. Really great post. One of the things I like to do is if there is something that an alumni has told me, or I've read it on a website (or even their website), I like to quote the source and then ask for their personal quotes and to maybe give a different perspective of that topic (especially in regards to certain centers etc.)

  4. It has been initiated with more of the possible opinions and details which students must needed to think and act so we would be able to move forward with such sufficient guides.

  5. If you look through the job descriptions of almost all senior positions across industries, you can see that MBA is the preferred degree, though perhaps not mandatory.

    Practice for GMAT

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  7. That advice was incredibly unhelpful. I already knew where I wanted to apply. By that point, I just wanted advice that would help me get in. I was past the stage of trying to determine fit. sop for ms in computer science

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