How to Overcome Prospective Students' Reservations About Your MBA ProgramTyson Schritter | Chief Operating Officer, Abound
It’s no secret that prospective students have more reservations about the value of an MBA program than they had in the past. This is due in part to overall suspicion of higher ed, which a Gallup survey found has been growing over the last three years. Even though it’s still favorable compared to many other societal institutions, higher education’s substantial and ever-increasing financial cost has people questioning its true value. Graduate business programs are under pressure to make a case for their value, especially since corporate leaders are often vocal about how they found business success without the need of an MBA.
While it’s true that an MBA might not be necessary for everyone looking to advance in the business world, it can definitely give a massive leg up. There are many valid and convincing reasons why an MBA is right move. It’s critical for your school’s marketing to make these “reasons to believe” clear to prospective students.
Naturally, the major concern for prospective students is the cost, in both money and time it takes to complete an MBA program. This is why, in addition to highlighting financial aid, available scholarships and flexible programs that allow students to balance work and school, you have to find well-presented ways to get them to see the long-term return on investment of an immediately costly degree. These are business-minded individuals you’re talking to, after all, and so a compelling demonstration of your program’s ROI is a must.
There are a number of ways to do this, of course. As an example, Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business hosts a well-designed and strategic landing page that highlights impressive companies in the Silicon Valley at which their MBA students work. With organizations like Google, Twitter, and Netflix listed, it’s not hard to imagine how attending their program might lead to working for a successful and respected brand.
In another example, the University of Delaware provides information on the median and mean salary of its graduates, the top employers for alumni, and more on a “Career Outcomes” page. Even though an MBA program may cost tens of thousands of dollars and diminish one’s free time, you can help students think about the long-term benefit of an MBA with an easy-to-understand presentation of ROI.
Yes, students may have to take on some loans and decrease their spending for a couple of years. And yes, students may not even incur an immediate salary jump after they graduate, but over time they will likely see payoffs that, again, will make any short-term losses worth it in the end. It’s just as important to communicate this so students don’t get the false impression that earning an MBA will immediately pays for itself after graduation (of course, it might, but not always). The goal is to reframe the conversation from how the MBA will benefit prospective students’ careers right afterthey graduate to how the MBA will benefit their careers in the next five to 10 years and beyond.
It’s also important to highlight that the value of going to graduate school for business isn’t merely limited to greater earning power or access to impressive career opportunities. An MBA also leads to more genuinely fulfilling work and professional relationships. With a more academic understanding of a given discipline within the world of business, be that marketing or finance or leadership, graduates can be better at their job and more likely to innovate and push their organizations forward. This, coupled with the practical experience every good MBA program should be offering through internships, capstone projects or consulting opportunities, is going to make graduates extremely well rounded and able to best meet the challenges of their industries. Your marketing, therefore, should emphasize that an MBA program brings theoretical knowledge, through faculty and professional mentoring, as well as practical experience through internships and innovative curriculum. By having a better understanding of their industry and the larger world of business, graduates can find greater fulfillment and enjoyment in their work— in addition to making more money and having access to more career opportunities.
The University of Dallas effectively uses student testimonials to reflect the value of how their MBA program merges theoretical knowledge and practical experience with their Capstone Consulting Experience. While this is a step in the right direction, perhaps a more compelling way to highlight a program feature like this would be to create a robust case study that breaks down, in detail, a previous consulting project that students were involved in. Along with the kind of faculty or student testimonials that the University of Dallas uses, it could also show prospective students—not just tell them—exactly how they might gain coveted business knowledge and experience. Imagine featuring multiple examples of consulting projects related to different industries—supply chain and logistics, finance and accounting, marketing and communications, and so on. This is only one of many tactics to convey to students that they’ll be equipped with both theoretical knowledge and practical experience through your MBA program.
The other major advantage of an MBA program is the connections students can make with a network of alumni, industry professionals and professors. This is no small perk, to be sure, since whom we know is often just as important to career success as what we know. Schools need to communicate this to prospective students, showing them the successful individuals who act as mentors and teachers in the MBA program, connecting students to great professional opportunities. Can you highlight professors who have accrued years of executive leadership or who have been successful as entrepreneurs? Can you feature mentorship programs where students are able to have one-on-one professional coaching with a successful alum or business leader? How about calling attention to your career services office and their commitment to offering skills related to networking, building a professional online presence and conducting effective interviews?
Further, having access to helpful mentors, coaches and faculty members isn’t just something that lasts for the length of students’ program. A great MBA program gives students access to resources like these for the rest of their lives through alumni networks, events and opportunities—another clear example of how you can emphasize the lifelong benefits of an MBA. One of many ways to highlight this is to identify former alumni willing to chat with prospective students who are considering your school. Not only can they answer practical questions prospective students might have (and relieve the burden of your admissions team), but they can also share how their connection to the school has continued to benefit them years after graduating.
Ultimately, you have to give your prospective students “reasons to believe” that your MBA program is a wise investment by emphasizing of its long-term benefit. No program, no matter how well ranked it is, can ever guarantee a student’s success. Much of what makes an MBA program successful is what the student puts into it themselves. Still, there are many ways to give your prospective students reasons to believe that, if they are willing to do their part, your program is a great next move for them. Examples include featuring the number of graduating students who have gone on to work with recognizable companies, highlighting professional bios of faculty and alumni mentors, detailing valuable capstone projects and internship opportunities, and more. It’s things like these, taken together, that can help prospective students overcome reservations about your MBA program and convince them that your school can help them achieve their long-term career goals and professional dreams.
Author Perspective: Business