How Hult Became The World’s Largest Graduate Business School

The school's website and promotional materials are highly polished--even slick

The school’s website and promotional materials are highly polished–even slick

Some of the same techniques that made EF Education wildly successful–including the widespread use of recruiters to sign up students via call center telemarketing–was then used to fuel Hult’s growth. The tactic fuels criticism that admissions at Hult is less about qualifying candidates than it is about recruiting them. But Hodges contends the call center staff play an important role in screening potential applicants. “We use telemarketing teams in each recruiting office,” Hodges explains. “Whenever an applicant expresses interest in Hult, our telemarketing team will call them.”

The caller is charged with ensuring possible applicants understand Hult’s international scope and focus, as well as entry requirements, and that applicants are directed to the right Hult program, Hodges says.

“Many students in emerging markets apply for the MBA straight after college even though they don’t have any postgraduate work experience,” Hodges says. “So one aim here is to identify students who don’t meet this requirement and divert them at an early stage to a more appropriate program.”

Hult telemarketing calls reportedly include boiler room methods. “The recruiters will use scholarships and deadlines to pressure potential candidates into signing up,” says Ryan Donahue, who claimed to be a Hult student on the popular Indian website PaGalGuy. “(They’ll say) ‘You will lose your $20,000 scholarship unless you matriculate in two weeks.'”

Hult’s recruiters lead large call center teams of these telemarketers. One of Hult International’s recruiters, London-based Anastasija Karpova, notes on her LinkedIn profile that she specializes in telemarketing and managing call centers. For Hult, her core responsibilities include running a “telesales” team and “using data driven analysis to optimize telesales outreach activities.” Previously, Karpova was head of telemarketing for Hult Europe, managing, according to her profile, 25 sales agents in London and Lucerne alone.

Though about 98% of Hult students come via a staff recruiter, over the past 18 months, Hult has begun using “education agents” to woo students in areas that are remote or where potential applicants are scarce, Hodges says.


“There are a large number of education agents around the world who work with students and their families to help them select a suitable school,” Hodges says. “They are effectively admissions consultants who listen to the students’ aims and recommend schools. It is quite common for U.S. schools to use these agents to help them attract international students and to pay a commission for this.”

Hult’s agent contracts specify that for each student enrolled, the agent receives 10% of the student’s first-year tuition beyond any in-house scholarship or loan. At Hult, MBA tuition costs $69,800 for the one-year program in Boston or San Francisco, with other Hult business master’s programs costing about $43,000 and the four-year Bachelor of Business Administration program costing $30,000 annually. Fee-mitigation from grants and scholarships usually cuts tuition by about 15%, Hodges says.

Further incentives for agents come with Hult’s “Special Partner Reward Program,” which contains five categories – blue, silver, gold, platinum and black. “Blue” status requires recruitment of at least two “confirmed students” and brings a further $2,000 to ramp up the agent’s marketing of Hult. “Black” status requires 35 or more confirmed students and nets $50,000 in marketing funds.


Commissions to admission consultants are clearly prohibited by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, whose principles of good practice forbid “compensation from schools for placing candidates.” It’s not clear how many consultants have signed contracts with Hult, but two admission consultants — one in the Middle East and another in France — told Poets&Quants they turned down Hult offers due to ethical concerns. A spokesperson for Hult insists that the company operates inside accepted industry norms. “We do not use any agents in the United States and outside of the U.S. it is common practice to pay agents,” he says.

The heavy recruiting of both more recruiters and students, meantime, goes on. In July, the school posted five Miami-based jobs for Spanish-speaking recruiters and marketers for Latin America work – one of whom must also speak Portuguese – plus a recruiter for the new Brazil office. Worldwide, the school had posted a total of 23 jobs for recruiters. “In general, we see a significant demand in emerging markets,” Hodges says. “We see a lot of growth in Latin America in demand for U.S. education.”

The school even goes hunting on Craigslist for telemarketers. “We’re looking for charismatic go-getters with the interpersonal communication skills of Anderson Cooper, and the stamina of Tim Howard,” says an ad posted this summer in Boston and San Francisco, referring to the TV journalist and the star American soccer goalie. “You’ll work closely alongside our enrollment and marketing teams to on-board students for the 2015 academic year.” The ad for the $15 per hour part-time job also referenced a literary figure, and a character from TV’s Mad Men, saying the ideal candidate was “a wordsmith when it comes to interpersonal communication (Think William Shakespeare meets Don Draper).”

Hult has a total of about 700 MBA students at its San Francisco, Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai campuses, with some 400 at the two U.S. campuses. While MBA enrollment has stalled in the past two years, the school is intent on boosting enrollment in its master’s and bachelor’s  business programs. Besides its one-year MBA program, the school also has an Executive MBA, master’s programs in international business, finance, international marketing, and social entrepreneurship, and an undergraduate business program. “At this point Hult is not really growing its MBA program, it’s more focused on quality,” Hodges contends.

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