The admissions team is the face of any business school. Like any front line employees, adcoms can either uphold or undermine their schools’ carefully-crafted branding. These days, MBA applicants are evaluating schools on more than whether they live up to the hype. They also want schools that make them feel welcome, where people take the time to get to know who they are — and who they want to become. When it comes to demonstrating openness and making a connection, ESADE tops all comers.
That was the biggest takeaway from the 2017 MBA Applicant Survey from AIGAC (Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants), which was released on June 19th. According to the 2,868 MBA applicants surveyed by AIGAC this spring, ESADE earned a 3.36 score on a four point scale, edging out Vanderbilt University with a 3.20 average. Last year’s top performer, Dartmouth College, finished third at 3.06, up from its 2.99 high water mark the year before.
The survey is an open online sample without a controlled sample and tends to be completed by clients of the MBA admission consulting firms. As a result, some of the responses on the survey tend to overstate the impact and influence of consultants in MBA admissions. Nonetheless, the findings can shed some light on the admission practices of the top business schools and the perspectives of candidates on their journey to a prestige MBA program.
DARTMOUTH, DUKE AND INSEAD EARN PLAUDITS FROM STUDENTS AND CONSULTANTS ALIKE
This year’s Top 10 was equally divided between American and international programs, with Duke, IESE, and INSEAD joining Dartmouth as repeats in the Top 10. In fact, Duke and IESE both improved their scores from the previous year, going from 2.85 to 2.95 and 2.78 to 2.82 respectively. While Top 10 scores were demonstrably improved in the Top 10 range, several MBA programs lost ground. Notably, last year’s second and third place finishers — IE Business School and Northwestern University, which notched respective 2.89 and 2.87 scores in 2016 — tumbled out of the Top 10, meaning their scores fell below 2.82.
SCHOOLS THAT OFFERED GREATEST OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH STUDENTS
The 2017 AIGAC data also mirrors, to an extent, results from a 2015 Poets&Quants survey of leading admissions consultants. In the area of being transparent about admissions decision-making — a tell-tale sign of frequent communication and insightful feedback — Tuck ranked first, beating out Harvard Business School (another Top 10 finisher in the AIGAC survey) by a two-to-one margin. Several other programs feted by AIGAC, including Duke, Michigan, and INSEAD, also ranked highly with admissions consultants for transparency in P&Q’s survey.
At the same time, Tuck notched a perfect score with consultants surveyed by P&Q when it came to identifying the schools that got to know their applicants best. Par for the course, Duke, INSEAD, and Michigan also ranked among P&Q’s Top 10 (as did Kellogg).
“THEY GENUINELY WANTED TO LEARN ABOUT ME”
Dawna Clarke, who stepped down as Tuck’s admissions director in February to start her own consulting firm, credited Tuck’s success to a greater empathy with the process, coupled with the school’s traditional student-centric approach. By appreciating the paralyzing insecurity and stinging rejection inherent to the application process, Tuck’s team strives to more open and helpful with candidates.
In a 2015 interview, Clarke shared that she too had been waitlisted and had recently witnessed her son go through the process. “The experience reaffirmed the value of treating applicants with care and sensitivity,” she told P&Q. “In order to have the connections we have with students, we have to have a great deal of empathy and respect for the people going through this process. I try to make myself available and it’s helpful to reveal to them how I know what they are going through…People are going for this and it is a huge goal in their mind. They are putting everything into it. We want them to walk away feeling good about the school, regardless of what the outcome is. About 15% of our applicant pool is composed of re-applicants and in many cases we get a very successful application the following year. So it works for them and it works for us, too.”
In the AIGAC survey, students expressed similar sentiments. One 29 year-old male admitted that rankings were ancillary to something more communal. “The programs I really gravitated to were those that felt like they genuinely wanted to learn more about me.” A thirtysomething female echoed these sentiments — and took them a step further. “Get to know us beyond GPA and test scores,” she implores. “Duke’s ’25 Facts’ and Notre Dame’s “Slideshow’ are great examples of this. Otherwise, it makes me feel like your program simply wants high-performing cattle on a conveyor belt (for rankings).”