Five years ago, if you were applying to Stanford's Graduate School of Business, you likely wouldn't have known much about the program's dean beyond his official biography and a few interviews. Today, applicants know what conferences Dean Garth Saloner has attended recently, what articles he's reading, and even what his vanity license plate says—provided they follow him on Twitter. (In case you were wondering about that vanity plate, it's "Change 3," which refers to the Stanford GSB motto "Change lives, change organizations, change the world.")
Before the age of rampant blogging and social media, b-schools often seemed shrouded in mystery to those hoping to be admitted: What is the admissions committee really looking for? What kind of students get in? What restaurants do program deans frequent?
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O.K., that last question probably wasn't foremost on applicants' minds, but now thanks to deans sharing snippets of their personal lives on Facebook and Twitter, social media-savvy applicants could indeed tell you where certain deans like to eat. More importantly, they have a far better handle on the application process and program cultures than would have been possible even a few years ago. Here are a few of the social media tools you can use to gain an insiders' perspective on the b-school communities you hope to join:
Deans' and professors' Twitter feeds: Often, deans and b-school professors use their Twitter feeds to share noteworthy articles and alumni news, so it behooves applicants to follow them. Of course, the sheer number of deans and professors who Tweet makes it difficult to keep up with all of them. The website Poets and Quants put together a helpful primer on deans worth following. I would add the deans of any other schools where you plan to apply to this list. Also, see if some of the well known professors in your departments of interest are on Twitter, and follow them.
Official program Facebook pages: M.B.A. programs including The Wharton School, the Ross School of Business, and the Yale School of Management all have official program Facebook pages that provide another method of keeping up with important program news. Simply "like" the program's page and its updates will be added to your Facebook wall.
Admissions blogs: When visiting the admissions websites of the schools where you're planning to apply, bookmark any admissions blogs that you find. At the very least, admissions directors and staff write about important application deadlines and events on these blogs. The best admissions blogs go even further, answering common applicant questions and giving advice on the application process. For example, the Chicago Booth admissions blog includes everything from announcements for student-hosted events to advice on a preparing for a successful interview.
[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]
Student blogs: By reading student blogs, applicants can glean insights about the daily lives of current students and also get an idea of the variety of paths students have taken to get to b-school. For example, the Berkeley M.B.A. Student blog, which is updated frequently by several students and has archives dating back to 2006, should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in applying there. Most student bloggers also post their contact information, and you'll find that many of them welcome questions about their programs and will respond to you personally or may even use your question to prompt a blog post.
Once you've done your virtual homework on your top programs, it's still a good idea to make time for a campus visit. Face time with students and professors still trumps Facebook…at least for now.