width=285In 2005 I decided to leave my job and go back to school. Things were going well at work but I wanted to stay ahead of the game and get additional qualifications that would allow me to keep moving forward in my career. And I wanted to invest in a degree that would give me a solid business education.

Other than knowing that an MBA stands for a Masters of Business Administration and that many important business leaders have one I really didn't know that much. It just so happened that around that time QS had an MBA fair in Paris where I was based. So I signed up, grabbed the closest thing I had to a suit at that time, and off I went.

I still remember clearly the moment I entered the fair. It was like joining a whole new world and I very quickly realized how deciding to do an MBA is a big, time consuming and expensive decision.

Two things jumped out at me right away. First, that there are a lot of different programs to chose from around the world, all with slightly different focuses, different quality, different kinds of students, different kinds of opportunities. Second, there were a lot of other potential students there, all looking at the same schools, all hoping to start an MBA in 2005.

Here are my top ten tips and words of advice to help you through the process.

1. Why an MBA? Begin by clearly defining your reasons for wanting to do an MBA. What are you hoping to get out of it? What do you want to do post graduation and how will the MBA help you get there? Start speaking with people who have done one and reading articles to get an idea of what the MBA can do for you.

2. Do your research! Before you attend an MBA fair sit down and prepare yourself so that you can get as much as you can out of the experience. Where do you want to do the MBA? Are you interested in a one or two year program? Are you interested in exchange opportunities? Dual-degree programs? Do you want a specialization within the MBA like marketing or entrepreneurship? There are quite a few options to choose from.

3. Make an initial list but be flexible. Start putting together a preliminary list of the schools that you would like to go to. If rankings are important to you, take a look at the different rankings out there to get a feel for what the best schools are in the field or location you want to be in. Once you get into the fair, check out the tables of the schools you are interested in but also take the time to roam around and see the other options that exist which you might not have considered.

4. Work on your introduction. One of the most useful parts of the MBA fair is the opportunity to meet and speak with admission representatives from the different schools that interest you. Take this opportunity to gather as much information as you can but also to make a good first impression. Prepare a brief, one-minute introduction of who you are and why you are interested in the MBA - their specific MBA if possible - to get some initial feedback from the representatives of whether or not you fit the school's profile.

5. Gather all the information you can. Have some well-planned questions to ask the admissions representatives. Just by listening to what they say you can gather quite a bit of useful information about the school that will help you with you application essays. Pick up brochures, magazines and other bits and pieces to read on the ride home.

6. Don't forget the seminars. The QS MBA fairs have quite a wide selection of seminars and speakers which provide some very useful information on a range of topics, from how to choose an MBA, the application process, how to pay for the MBA or tips on the GMAT. Don't forget that once you narrow down your list of schools you will need to be able to write a fantastic application and get a good score on your GMAT. The seminars will help.

7. Take the application essays seriously. Don't rush the essays. Really take the time to write a strong essay. Be honest about your answers, who you are and why you are interested in the programs. Find friends, family or, even better, current students or alumni at those schools to read over drafts and comment. Your essays are your ticket in so start these as early as you can.

8. Finding the right fit. Once you have narrowed down your list, ask around and try to meet current students and alumni from the different universities to hear about what their experiences were like. It is important to choose a school that you are passionate about and feel that you will fit into well. 

9. Visit the schools. Once you have narrowed down your schools and are working on your applications, plan to attend the events that the school has planned in your area. Also sign up to visit the campus on an open day if at all possible. These are excellent opportunities to meet the admissions team again in a quieter setting and to meet other applicants who might become your fellow students.

10. Think big but be realistic. Choose a program that will help you get to where you want to be, that you can really feel a part of, contribute to and learn from and of course one that you think you have a chance of being accepted into. Aim high but be realistic about what program is likely to be interested in your profile.

I remember leaving the fair exhausted but excited. It really helped turn my plan to do an MBA into reality and get me started on the whole process. It was a lot of work but all worth while the day you get your acceptance package in the mail.