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See Your Future at a Virtual MBA Fair

In recent years, MBA programs have rapidly adopted all sorts of technological advances. Business schools are operating online and on Facebook. Students are reading class materials on their iPads and listening to podcasts about admissions advice. And applicants are earning scholarships via Twitter. So it should come as no surprise that an increasing number of business schools are turning to online MBA fairs to showcase the benefits of their MBA programs.

"These are relatively new events that provide an opportunity to meet prospective candidates and showcase the unique characteristics" of a given school, said Shelley Burt, director of graduate enrollment at the Carroll School of Management of Boston College.

Online MBA fairs, such as those sponsored by The Economist and the Graduate Management Admission Council, are able to accommodate thousands of students from all over the world, allowing them to meet with admissions officers from multiple schools and attend interactive informational sessions online. For cash-strapped applicants, an online MBA fair can be a budget-friendly way to narrow down schools for campus visits or in-person interviews. For MBA schools, online fairs enable them to reach a large number of students with one event.

Online MBA fairs mirror traditional business school events

The Economist's upcoming Which MBA? MBA Fair, which is set to run Sept. 7-8, enables prospective students to chat live with business school representatives at selected times. Registrants should receive a schedule of participating schools and events--including webinar and chat times--via e-mail, and they can also access it once they log into the fair.

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“In addition to the ability to speak with admissions officers in real time, we are offering a selection of free guides from a variety of sources on topics like resume tips, how to select the right MBA for you and admissions manuals,” said Elizabeth Pace, a representative for The Economist Group.

The Economist's fair offers a number of additional features, including a questionnaire that participants can complete matching them to schools participating in the fair, an opportunity to upload a CV for schools and the ability to see information about various schools. An information desk also offers support and general information about the fair.

Advantages to online MBA fairs

The Economist's Business Education Editor Bill Ridgers described online MBA fairs as "fantastic" events to attend as they allow prospective students to "quiz schools about the whole process."

According to Ridgers, the online MBA fair provides an opportunity for candidates to gauge intangibles such as business school culture by chatting with school representatives and students. At the same time, Ridgers advises candidates to ask about resources that will be available to them during their job search. For example, Ridgers said business schools should have in place valuable corporate contacts and alumni networks students could tap during their job search.

Pace advises students to spend some time preparing for online fairs so they can make the best impression possible.

“Prospective students should approach these events with an open mind and an interest in exploring new opportunities,” she said. “We also suggest prospective students come with a list of questions to ask admissions officers that are different from the basic questions that could be found on a website. Candidates who ask insightful questions stand out and are remembered.”

Online MBA fairs benefit both schools and students

Online MBA fairs are a cost-effective way for prospective MBAs--including international candidates--to meet with admissions officers and alumni from global MBA programs in one virtual location. Instead of incurring the travel, lodging and business attire costs required to attend traditional events, students can connect at no expense from all over the world to speak with school representatives via chat or webcam.

"You can discover a variety of programs you may not have even considered," Burt said. "You can have substantive conversations."

Online MBA fairs are also a convenient way for business schools to reach prospective students. Representatives of the Carroll School of Management of Boston College are preparing for the September GMATCH Virtual MBA Fair by uploading profiles of students and alumni, videos featuring faculty members and campus tours, and website links for prospective students, according to Burt. They also have a list of answers to questions on application requirements such as essays.

"Access is a really great feature," Burt said. "Information can be presented in a very direct manner to prospective candidates."

So, while an online MBA fair might not seal the deal on business school acceptance, it can be an excellent way to find out which schools are worth the investment of a new business suit.

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