Last Updated: May 29, 2008: 8:53 AM EDT
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A chance to compare MBA schools

The MBA Tour lets would-be students meet admissions officers and others from dozens of B-schools, all under one roof.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dan Berger, a 26-year-old aide to New York Congressman Charles Rangel, knew he wanted to get an MBA but, he says now, he was overwhelmed by the number and variety of programs available: "I knew I needed to gather a lot of information before choosing a school, but I really didn't know where to start."

Then he heard about a two-day event in New York City last September called The MBA Tour, where representatives from more than 20 B-schools, including the Yale School of Management and Duke's Fuqua School, would be gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel to meet prospective applicants and answer their questions. Berger went, and was impressed by the "tremendous energy" of the people from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and especially by a speech he heard Jett Pihakis, associate dean for MBA programs, make.

"I hadn't even thought about Georgetown before that," says Berger -- but he was so impressed, he applied. Berger was accepted and will start courses there in August.

It's important to get the right "fit" when picking an MBA program, Berger says. "The MBA Tour gives you enough of the sense of the culture of each school that you can get a good idea whether it's right for you," he says. And since each school gives more than one presentation, at various times during the weekend, "you can 'hit' a lot of schools in one or two days," he says. "For someone like me, who really had no idea where I wanted to go, it was extremely helpful."

The MBA Tour is the brainchild of Peter von Loesecke, who got his MBA from Cornell's Johnson School and started this venture in 1993, after a long career as a management consultant. Since then, The MBA Tour has put on more than 165 events in 28 countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe, the U.S., and Canada. This year, the U.S. conferences will be held in September in eight cities: Chicago, Houston, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. (For exact dates and other details, see The MBA Tour Web site (www.thembatour.com). You can register in advance online or at the door on the day of the event.

This year, von Loesecke has started charging a nominal fee to attend: $5 in advance and $10 at the door. All the proceeds will go toward a new MBA scholarship fund he's established. The fees don't seem to have kept anyone away from these events overseas so far this year: von Loesecke says that attendance rose 30% last year, and he expects to beat that increase this year.

Why the surge of interest? "We find that people think an economic slowdown is a good time to go back to school, so they start looking into it," he says. "But it peaks early in a recession. If the recession drags on and on, as it did from 2001 to 2004, you begin to see fewer full-time B-school applications, because people decide not to leave their jobs."

Most popular at Tour events are panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions where would-be applicants get details from each school on what it takes to get accepted, including the relative importance of GMAT scores, essays, and work experience.

And, since getting an MBA represents no small investment, "we find people are very interested in learning about financial aid and scholarships that are available," von Loesecke says. "It's also a chance to meet some alumni of schools you may be considering, who often participate in the discussions."

"What we've really tried to create is the chance for people to evaluate and compare 20 to 25 different MBA programs all in the space of two days - and without having to visit 20 to 25 campuses," he says.

That's handy: With fuel prices what they are these days, the less travel, the better.

Readers, have you thought about going back to school for an MBA or other degree? What would influence your decision most in choosing a graduate program, or - if you've already taken the plunge - how did you pick your school? If you've already graduated, was getting your MBA worthwhile? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog. To top of page

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