Reverse MBA Applications: Why UCLA Is Applying to MBA Students
In the world of MBA programs, students might apply to dozens of programs. This process may sometimes be flipped, with an MBA program choosing a particular student based on a number of different criteria. This "reverse MBA application" is on the cusp of becoming a trend, especially as MBA programs suffer a significant decline in applications.
"We would say, 'Look, if you're interested in this, this is what we have going on here that might be appropriate for you.' That really triggered people to learn more..." - Robert Weiler
Applications for the full-time MBA dropped for the fourth year in a row, and 2012 saw a drop of 22 percent in applications worldwide, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT. This four-year decline comes on the heels of several years during which applications were up, a possible indication that students are more wary of spending the money and time on a full-time, two-year program. That indication seems even more likely as part-time, online and executive MBA programs show an increase in applications across the world, suggesting that students are open to applying to an MBA program, but not at the expense of their full-time jobs.
Some institutions saw very sharp declines. The Columbia Business School saw a 19 percent drop, New York University's Stern School fell 11.5 percent, and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College saw an 8.8 percent decrease in MBA program applications. A whopping 62 percent of all business schools in the U.S. reported declines in applications for their two-year programs.
On the other hand, the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles saw something entirely different in terms of applications: a 22 percent increase. That's the largest single jump reported by business schools in 2012. Much of that increase is thanks to aggressive marketing; the school sent out 45,000 emails to potential students explaining why the Anderson School of Management might be their best choice.
Robert Weiler, associate dean of the full-time MBA program, believes that's just good business.
"You've got to be able to articulate what it is you're offering and why your institution is potentially the right fit for somebody," Weiler said. "Some of this is simply getting on students' radar screens. The rest of the decision is part of the process: visiting and going to visit class and immersing yourself in the culture as best you can."
"It's important to be able to articulate what it is you do, how you do it, and have that resonate with potential applicants." - Robert Weiler
Sending impersonal emails to potential students was not a part of the plan for the Anderson School of Management. Weiler pointed out that the emails were tailored to get a person's attention.
"If somebody has inquired and they express an interest in finance or whatever it is, we would tailor an email and highlight some professors and some of the work that they're doing in the world of finance, whether it's in microfinance or traditional finance or whatever it might be. We would say, 'Look, if you're interested in this, this is what we have going on here that might be appropriate for you.' That really triggered people to learn more [about our programs]."
Building interest is the first step. The School of Management has also streamlined their admissions process, reduced the number of required essays, created a network for students and alumni, and become the first business school to form a partnership with the nonprofit TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design).
These advances are what keep the attention of those potential students.
"When [potential students] come visit, that's when they're sort of drawn into it. So it's important to be able to articulate what it is you do, how you do it, and have that resonate with potential applicants," Weiler said. "At the same time, when somebody applies to a school, they've got to be able to do the exact same thing and show us that they've done their due diligence.
"You know, we love when people say, 'Yeah, I visited a campus and I went to a class and I've had six phone calls with current second-year students, and I've contacted the Investment finance Association or the Net Impact Club, and these are areas that I think I'd want to be involved in.' That shows that they've taken the steps necessary to understand who we are, and they then can articulate why we would be a good fit for them."
There could be another benefit to reverse MBA applications -- a higher ranking for the school in publications such as U.S. News & World Report. That's because a smaller acceptance rate often makes a school rank higher. In the case of the Anderson School of Management, MBA admissions are expected to drop by four percent, during a year when there were an impressive 3,335 applicants for only 359 seats.
In the end, however, the moves that the school has made have nothing to do with rankings. They were made to help draw the best talent to a school that Weiler feels can suit their career goals.
"You'll get the right people if you're doing the right thing. It's very much a two-way street."
"B-School Applicants Decline for Four Years," Wall Street Journal, Melissa Korn, September 17, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/mba-headlines/articles/SB10000872396390444433504577651962999932518
"Columbia MBA Apps Plunge 19%," Poets & Quants, John A. Byrne, August 29, 2012, http://poetsandquants.com/2012/08/29/columbia-mba-apps-plunge-19/
"UCLA Boasts 22% Rise in Applications," Poets & Quants, John A. Byrne, September 18, 2012, http://poetsandquants.com/2012/09/18/ucla-boasts-22-rise-in-applications/
Interview with Robert Weiler, associate dean of the full-time MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted by Jamar Ramos, MBAPrograms.org, July 11, 2013