As a professional, you likely know that using LinkedIn is important—it’s the world’s professional database, after all.

But it’s actually an immensely useful tool when you’re applying to business schools, too. For one, prospective programs will expect that you’re on it; the MIT Sloan School of Management, for example, requests your LinkedIn URL on its application, in addition to your resume. But more importantly, you can (and should) use LinkedIn to do deep research on the schools and career paths you’re interested in.

1. Get Advice

Joining a group, such as an alumni or affinity group on LinkedIn is an easy way to expand your network and connect with others in your field or potential career—say, MBAs who live in Los Angeles and work in investment banking or investment management.

But business schools are forming groups not only to connect alumni, but to advise prospective students. Cambridge’s Judge Business School, MIT Sloan, and the Kelley School at Indiana University all have groups designed to help answer questions and educate prospective students. Other groups, such as MBA Podcaster and Poets & Quants, offer up-to-date news pieces on the MBA admissions process.

2. Find Out What Alumni Have Done

Click on a business school, for example, “Wharton” on any grad’s educational profile, and you’ll see an array of information about Wharton grads on LinkedIn. You can plug in a graduation year, say 2011, and see where that class landed by region, by industry, and by company. Check out how many people—and who—ended up in marketing or business development or product management.

Think you want to work in Asia, but not sure that Columbia Business School is the right school for you? You can use LinkedIn to find the recent Columbia grads who have landed in China, Singapore, and Korea—and then reach out to them for informational interviews if they are willing.

3. Identify Target Career Paths

If you’re exploring career paths, LinkedIn’s advanced search feature can be your new best friend. Perhaps you want to work in business development or product management after your MBA, for a company like online game-maker Zynga. How have others walked that path? Type “Zynga” in the company box, MBA in the keywords, and see what others have done to get to that point. You will find that the pre-MBA experiences vary from engineering to Peace Corps volunteer, and that their pre-Zynga experiences include startups, product management, and even consulting. Either way, this intelligence will make you a smarter planner and (later) a more effective job seeker.

4. Follow Your Favorite Schools

Don’t let LinkedIn’s “follow” feature fool you—in addition to searching for and following companies of interest, you can use that same tool to follow schools. Once you follow a school, you can see who else from your network is connected to your programs of choice. If I look up “Tuck School of Business” for example, I can see 89 people in my network from the school—students, alumni, and faculty. It’s an easy way to scope out who might be able to answer questions about the school or application process. By following a school, you’ll also get notified when any member of your network adds that school to his or her profile.

Like many web tools, LinkedIn offers great value for your grad school search—if you know how to use it. Keep your profile up to date, use the unbelievable resources in the LinkedIn database, and then, go out and make connections for your professional and educational benefit. It’s a great way to make social media work for you.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Scarborough