Located on the shores of Lake Geneva in the Swiss town of Lausanne, IMD is probably best-known as a world-leader in executive education. Its full-time MBA is a small affair, with just 90 students per year.
But this is an MBA with pedigree, having been running for 46 years. Last year, Forbes ranked IMD as the world’s top non-U.S. one-year MBA, besting the previous winner INSEAD. Forbes concluded that based on its return-on-investment calculations, IMD’s MBA knocked it out of the park. The magazine noted that IMD’s Class of 2012 boasted median salaries of $215,000 five years of out of school, $26,000 more than any other non-U.S. school. IMD grads earned back their total investment in forgone salary and tuition in just 2.3 years on average.
After beating INSEAD in the ranking, IMD experienced a massive 63% increase in applications to its MBA program, proving once again the power of rankings to influence application volume. The IMD jump–albiet off a small base–outpaced every other European MBA program last year (see Acceptance Rates For Top European Schools).
SEVERAL EUROPEAN SCHOOLS REPORTED DOWNTURNS IN MBA APPS
IMD says it admitted 124 of the 430 candidates who applied for admissions this past year, yielding an enrolled class of those 90 students to its one-year MBA program. Thanks to the surge in applications, IMD’s admit rate fell to 28.8% this year, lower than INSEAD, London Business School, or the MBA programs at Cambridge and Oxford. Other than IMD, the largest reported increase in MBA apps this past year was occurred at Warwick Business School, which reported a 26% jump.
Several prominent MBA programs in Europe, in fact, reported downturns in applications. London Business School received 10% fewer applications for its MBA program in the 2017-2018 admissions season, while applicants to ESMT Berlin in Germany fell 11%, and IESE Business School in Spain was down 8%.
We asked Seán Meehan, the dean of the MBA program at IMD, what was behind the surge in applications.
P&Q: Why have you seen such an increase in applications?
SM: I think we benefit from a tremendous brand, one that evokes a lot of interest and curiosity. Also, we got a fantastic springboard from the Forbes ranking. That’s a very, very significant booster that we credit to the work and the program over the previous years.
P&Q: How have you changed things since you took over as dean of the MBA program in 2017?
We’ve dropped the cost of the application from CHF350 to CHF200. We have also shortened the period between the application and the offer or rejection from 10 to eight weeks. We offered to fast-track a small number of people, those who we know will be sought-after by a lot of schools, which we never did before.
We attached scholarships to specific deadlines rather than allocating the money at the end of the year. That’s attractive to some people because they know that if in this particular deadline, they’re the standout student, they’ll get a scholarship. We also got donors to commit to nominating their scholarships as scholarships for women. We just did a lot of housekeeping around the process.
P&Q: How have you changed the program?
SM: We ask the question: What’s the world going to look like in eight years? That’s the period of time what we feel our MBAs really need to make an impact.
This may not sound very controversial, but we think the world will digitalize even further. Also, businesses will be more globalized, in spite of the political rumblings. And companies have an urge to be much more entrepreneurial. Big companies will become more agile.
We addressed each one of those issues within the curriculum. Fifteen of the 17 International Consulting were with organisations struggling with digitalization.
Then we married digitalization and globalization by taking our students on a two-week tour of Silicon Valley, Singapore, and Bangalore.
Entrepreneurship has always been a very big feature of the program and we continue to emphasize it. We bring it in to strategy and to marketing and to the electives. For us is not purely start-ups and angel investing or early-stage companies, it’s about a mindset.
P&Q: Do you have a GMAT cut-off point?
Consulting firms will tell you that they only get serious about people who have GMATs of 700 and above. If a chunk of your people will go to consulting or might want to, you’ve got to keep that in mind. Although increasing it is not an aim, our GMAT score was 10 points higher this year than last year.
But if you select for GMAT scores, you are selecting for geographies because certain countries score higher. If you want a diverse class, you can’t do that. Also, some people, especially if they are older or in more senior jobs, might not have the time to study for the GMAT, so score lower. Some with a GMAT in the 500s might have an amazing story. One of our top pieces of advice to students is to keep an open mind. We try to do the same thing.
P&Q: What are you looking for in a candidate?
SM: People with the ambition to lead and to take on important issues in their life. We give students the standard MBA toolkit, but we’re training and developing them as leaders. The single biggest piece of feedback we get from alumni, year after year and no matter how many years ago people left, is: “The year transformed me, it changed my life.” You’ve got to submit yourself to that process and you’ve got to be willing to evolve and change.
P&Q: What advice would you give to an applicant?
SM: One: be yourself. Everyone will, of course, show up and put on the best face that they can, but we want to see you as you are.
Two: having a reference from an alumnus is very, very powerful. I know that an alumnus will not give you a reference unless they truly believe that you will thrive in the program, and they know what you’re getting into.
Three: Don’t lean back when you’re here for the day. Treat all of your fellow participants on the day with equal respect and kindness and engage with everyone on a fair footing.
Four: On the form, be thoughtful and genuine. All sorts of examples can show us your leadership potential, from your work, private life, hobbies and sacrifices you’ve made along the way. Those are very important to help us understand the kind of person you are.
P&Q: How will the IMD MBA change in the future?
Part of our mission is to find tremendous talents wherever they are, especially people who have not had the opportunity and privilege that others have. Last year we ran a one-day innovation challenge in Mumbai and we made a scholarship offer at the end of the day.
We will do more of that next year because we know that the people we saw wouldn’t have thought of applying. They maybe couldn’t even afford to come to our assessment days. A Western MBA for them might be out of reach and they haven’t given it serious consideration. We want to reach those people.