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What’s Applying For An MBA Really Like? We Asked A Student

By June 28, 2019

Business School Student

Today a number of changes across the workforce, technology and the student expectations are re-shaping education, especially when it comes to the student experience. From the onset, this experience starts with the applicant experience. So, we asked one recent MBA applicant to share his personal story and take on how business schools can up their game…

Wherever you look, in every industry, organisations are scrambling to meet the demands of smarter, more connected consumers – whether they’re shoppers or employees.

Or, indeed, students.

Higher Ed institutions – and their Recruitment and Admissions teams in particular – are under the same pressure to deliver a more proactive, continuous and personalised experience.

But what do today’s business school applicants expect? And, are those expectations being met?

We sat down with an MBA student to get his personal take on the modern applicant experience – and find out what changes business schools should be making if they want their institution to stand out from the crowd.

A bit about our interviewee…

Huw is set to graduate from a top UK business school this summer. Raised in South Africa, he is one of a growing number of students choosing to study abroad.

Q: What were your key considerations when looking for your future school?

A: “The school’s brand is a huge influence. What’s its reputation for excellence? What will people think when they see that name on your CV?

I also had to consider whether they offered a flexible and culturally diverse MBA programme that aligned with my aspirations. Another important factor for me was the experience of my peers – including those at the company where I work – who had previously joined MBA programmes.

I didn’t want to attend any generic career fairs. I really appreciated that the targeted events I attended felt very professional in comparison – and not unlike the work environment I was in already.”

Q: How did your preferred school communicate that flexibility and diversity?

A: “The brochure, which offers a high-level view of the MBA, included a big section on flexibility and diversity. It introduced the student body, and informed me of their backgrounds and the steps the school is taking to drive that diversity.

I also found that flexibility was consistently communicated throughout the admissions process – by the programme office, administration and the students themselves.”

Q: Which elements of the application process had a positive influence on you?

A: “I was lucky enough to have a number of personal conversations with the admissions team who helped me understand the processes, and I was always able to get the right advice from the right people.

I didn’t realise it at first, but the simplicity and the transparent view of the application process really influenced my final decision to study there. And the more I think about it, the more critical it seems to me that students get that end-to-end transparency and support.

It’s also important that international students have a community open to them when studying overseas. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to speak with alumni in my area – either online or in-person – to help me integrate and answer any questions I might have about the programme. It definitely helped me find my sense of belonging.”

Q: How did other schools fail to influence your application decision?

A: “I got a lot of generic emails. In fact, I’m still getting them which it is strange now that I am about to graduate, that and they’re all from schools I was never interested in, to begin with.

In terms of personalisation, the messaging was very baseline – “Hey Huw”. And that’s kind of it. These emails were already unwelcome, and seeing that lack of effort in their messaging did little to build my confidence in their institution.

Many schools also hosted mass admission events, and the lack of professional intimacy I encountered was just alienating. When you’re looking to study at a premier university, you expect a certain level of personalisation and intimacy as standard.”

Q: What could schools do better for future applicants?

A: “In my situation, money wasn’t really an issue as my employer sponsored my MBA. But it wasn’t the same for my classmates, and some of them struggled to get the information they needed from the school about financial aid.

As an international student in an unfamiliar country, information available online is precious. I also found schools’ digital resources to be a little outdated and disjointed. It was not seamless at all, and I often had to jump between platforms to get the advice I needed on accommodation, my driver’s license and other key points.

Schools should take advantage of the information they have on us [prospective students] to better personalise their communications. As applicants, we are bombarded with information and the number of communications we received doesn’t mean we are most likely to engage. What matters is the personalisation and relevancy of the content as well as the channel used and the time at which it is shared.

With that said, schools could do more to surprise prospects with thoughtful and original marketing content. The kind of stuff that makes us stop and think, ‘yes, they care’.

Lastly, schools should never underestimate the power of their communities. By connecting prospects with alumni and student ambassadors, it offers a vital lifeline for us to get a sense of whether we’d fit in at their school, and whether the program is right for us.

Q: What advice would you give to recruiters struggling to grab prospective students’ attention?

A: “From the moment I knew I wanted to do an MBA, to the moment I enrolled, it was a four-year journey. But students tend to be very proactive people, so if you can get them thinking about your school early on, you’ll inspire them to seek information about you and your alumni.

Personalised ads on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram can be very inspiring too, so tap into student interests. And don’t be afraid to show both the fun and professional sides of your institution. For example, one ad may show cycle trips taken by students in Paris, while another may show the attendees at a prestigious networking event.

I also find direct emails to be quite pushy, while mass emails are so easily scheduled, they don’t seem worth opening. If you could send a physical letter, that strikes me as a thoughtful and personable gesture. But I understand that can be tough to do.

Look where you can make an impression and consider how network-driven the student mentality is. For example, if I don’t know anybody who has attended a certain school, I’m a lot less likely to go there. Never underestimate the importance of targeted networking.

Regardless of the method, it’s about nurturing the relationship with the student and always being present to support them when they need it most.

A Smarter, More Connected Recruitment & Admission Process

When reaching out to prospects, personalised, proactive messaging is key to winning their mindshare, as is how well you apply your school’s wider community to create powerful 1-to-1 relationships.

Join us as we discuss how education professionals like you can meet the expectations of today’s candidates and applicants in our upcoming webinar: Shape and Engage your Incoming Class: Top Recruitment Tips from Business Schools on Thursday, July 11. 

Can’t attend the webinar? Register anyway and we’ll send you the recording. 

Register for Webinar