Interview invites are starting to pour out and driving a lot of questions. The HBS three-wave process finally concluded and left a few people happy, a few people (deferred) confused, and a lot of people sad, given the sheer numbers at play. Less heralded, but still incredibly newsworthy, is the fact that Booth is already sending out interview invites as well. Given the school's meteoric and ongoing rise up all the rankings and its ability to elbow into the "best of the best" conversation, it's crucial to give the Booth questions that come up just as much airtime as mighty HBS. And today's question - and the most common question related to Booth interviews - is:
Should I interview with a second year student on campus or with an alumni member off campus?
There is no easy answer to that ... but the answer still makes your life easier. Let me explain what I mean.
First, breaking down interviewing on campus with a second year student.
My take on this is that you are likely to get a more consistent experience going on campus. For starters, Booth has long used second year students as part of the admissions process. They train them, they monitor how things go, and they have a proven track record of getting strong performances out of these individuals. Further, because it is on campus it has a more formal feel - you aren't going to be going to someone's office in Midtown New York or interviewing at a coffee shop. This could be a negative for someone who is super nervous or a positive for someone who wants it to feel like other interviews they have done; I am not making a value judgement just noting the difference. One thing that I do believe is a positive though is that current students are going to be more consistently excited about Booth and to be doing this task. Alumni members may be still doing interviews out of volition and really not into it, but a current student literally just took this job on and would seemingly be pretty into it. I think you get a more consistent experience there as well.
Aside from a more consistent experience, you also of course have the "going to campus" part. For someone near Chicago, that's an easy decision. For someone further away, it gets tougher. Have you seen the campus before? If yes, maybe skip the expense here. If no, maybe you can justify the expense because you know you will want to visit the school before enrolling anyway. Or maybe it's a sliding scale: combination of wanting a more consistent interview experience + justifying the expense as needed research = go to campus. It's different for each person in terms of what answer they arrive at, but those are the elements to consider.
Next, interviewing off-campus with an alumni member.
Obviously, this is the opposite information. You are likely going to get more volatility here. Everything from setting to mood to length. Whereas the second year student is mostly going to operate from a playbook and stick to it, an alumni member is far more likely to take things in their own direction. That can be bad if they are moody, flustered (maybe the day is getting away from them), or otherwise affected in their own life - and if they don't have a high level of professionalism. This is probably an unlikely scenario and I rarely hear about it with Booth (more so with Columbia, to be honest), but it's at least in play. Also in play is that it can go amazing. The more casual, off the grid nature, can lead to a very long interview that is a blast for both parties.
And, obviously, all the opposite travel and logistical considerations apply here.
Does Booth "reward" going to campus?
They do not seem to, no. They certainly don't punish it, but when they say there is no difference in their eyes to doing it on or off-campus, I believe them. It doesn't mean the experience is going to be the same (see everything above), but I truly don't think they are assigning more value to trekking out to Booth. Some schools (NYU, Tuck) place an extreme premium on visiting, but Booth is not one of those schools.
So what should you do?
If I wanted to visit campus, I would to it on. If I was very far away and not wanting to invest in that trip, I would do it off. If I liked more formal settings and that mattered a lot to me, I would do it on. If I liked the idea of chasing a really high upside "amazing" interview and was okay with riding out the flip side (an awkward one), I might prefer off. Or maybe a combination of these. Each person has to decide - and at the end of the day, having the confidence to review this intel and then make a decision is actually going to have more impact on getting in than which one of these you choose.