UCLA’s Anderson School of Management today (April 29) revealed that applications to the school’s full-time MBA program jumped by 32% for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle.
The unusual increase, in a year when application volume at many schools is thought to be either flat or slightly down, means that MBA applications at Anderson have risen by more than 60% in the past four years. The latest jump follows a 7% decline in the year-earlier period after a 22% gain the prior year.
The school attributes the increase to a variety of factors, including a reduction of the number of essays and letters of recommendation required to apply as well as increased recruiting efforts that have led to deeper engagement by applicants.
SCHOOL CUT REQUIRED ESSAYS & RECOMMENDATION LETTERS IN HALF
In common with many other schools, Anderson cut in half the number of required essays and recommendation letters to one each from two a year earlier. “We did expect some increase by lowering barriers to entry but we didn’t expect the magnitude of increase,” says Rob Weiler, associate dean of the MBA program at Anderson. “The greatest percentage of it I would attribute to increased outreach on a lot of fronts.”
Among other things, the school more aggressively used “tailored emails” to prospective applicants so that interested women and applicants interested in studying finance received different messaging from the school. Anderson said it also used its own students and alumni to talk up the school to potential applicants. “We were able to tighten the connection a little bit with the emails and then there is a significant buzz among our current students who are our best advocates,” adds Weiler. “We see a lot of people who say ‘I have a friend in the first-year class.”
In the previous year, Anderson accepted 22.3% of its applicant pool, some 697 of the 3,124 who applied. The school enrolled 356 students in the fall of 2013 with an average GMAT score of 706 and an average grade point average of 3.47. Weiler said this year’s increase in applications did not adversely impact the quality of the applicant pool.
QUALITY OF OVERALL APPLICANT POOL ALSO INCREASED WITH FIVE-POINT HIGHER GMAT SCORES
“Once the numbers started coming in and we saw a significant increase, we pretty frankly expected the quality to fall, at least by GMAT scores. But we five points higher for the overall pool. We were very surprised. The increase did not come from a lot of people who said, ‘Ah that’s easy. I’ll apply.’ It is from people who came to view us as a viable and interesting alternative to a lot of the top schools they were looking at.”
Most schools, including UCLA, just closed their third round application deadlines and have yet to report on application volumes. But some admission officials are privately saying that applications are generally flat to down, with many worried that GMAT test taking data shows a significant decline in interest in two-year MBA programs.
Alex Lawrence, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, attributed part of the increase to the current student population. The school is using its ambassador program of 50-plus students differently than it had in the past. “We changed the experience of visitors to campus,” says Lawrence. “Initially, it was more around classroom visits. But now you can go to lunch with faculty, get a student guided tour of the campus. It’s an increased level of customer service. We had our admit weekend this past weekend and people have been just saying they are really impressed with the level of engagement and the enthusiasm of our students.”
THE IMPACT OF THE WORLD CUP IN BRAZIL
Lawrence also tapped into alumni, particularly in Latin America, from such countries as Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Along with Asia, the largest single increases in application flow occurred from Latin America. Admissions doubled its visits to Brazil and also appeared on a 24-hour news channel in Chile. “We have a very passionate group of alumni in the region,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence also said that publicity in Brazil about the corporate sponsors for the upcoming World Cup has heightened awareness of what it takes to work for a world-class company. “Young people are seeing the opportunities and realizing what is required to work for a company that might sponsor an event like the World Cup,” says Lawrence. “It’s just one of those little pieces of information adding to it all.”
The school said it conducted research which also showed that many prospective applicants make their first contact with the school in June and July. So Anderson encouraged students to use social media and blogs to continue to reach out to applicants when full-time students are off-campus for the summer. “Engagement begins over the summer,” adds Weiler, “so we are making sure that students are actively blogging then to hit prospective applicants.”