New Technologies Transform MBA Admissions

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
By Marco De Novellis
Photo by iStock/CentralITAlliance
From virtual campus tours to video guidance to online assessments, the MBA admissions process is adapting to the times.

“COVID has made us braver,” says Oliver Matthews, the chief marketing officer at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, also responsible for MBA admissions.

Before the pandemic, business schools were more risk averse and wary of experimenting with new technology, Matthews says, but COVID has put everyone on a level playing field. “We had to go online, and suddenly our audience was more forgiving because it was the only option.”

While business schools connected with candidates virtually before COVID, in the past year the entire MBA admissions process has transitioned online.

Meanwhile, applications to MBA programs globally have boomed, with thousands of candidates looking to graduate business school education in a time of job market uncertainty.

In this context, business schools are adopting new technologies to connect with and assess candidates virtually, and fine-tune the MBA admissions process.

Building a Virtual Campus

With most candidates unable to travel to campus, schools have been quick to launch virtual campus tours, offering 360-degree guided video tours of campus buildings and student accommodations.

Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany is going a step further. The school is building an immersive virtual campus where candidates enter using an avatar and can travel around the 3D campus, sign up for admissions events, and attend assessment days.

“You’ll be able to do this on a mobile device, desktop, or using a virtual reality headset,” Matthews explains.

The idea, he says, came from the school’s undergraduate open day, which welcomes over 700 prospective students on campus each year. Matthews wanted to recreate an experience of the same value and immersive quality as the in-person open day, online.

Frankfurt has partnered with a company that builds online video games to create the virtual campus. The beta version launches this fall and will then be accessible via the school’s website.

“Candidates want an immersive experience that doesn’t feel like they’re bouncing between a flat desktop screen and a Zoom call,” says Matthews.

“At the moment, this is a clever lead generation and conversion tool for us. In the future, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be classroom events that students can sign up for, or even pay to attend.”

Connecting With Candidates

ESCP Business School, with campuses throughout Europe, is taking a multichannel approach to growing their pipeline and connecting with candidates. The school is hosting webinars, joining virtual recruitment events, and creating useful video content to guide candidates through the admissions process.

ESCP uses an app created by its video production agency, H10 Studio, that enables staff, students, alumni, and professors from all over the world to film themselves to help generate video content for the school—which is especially useful during a pandemic.

The app guides content creators visually and incorporates on-screen prompts and scripts. Videos are then uploaded to the cloud for the school’s remote editing team to produce. Videos created via the app explain how to prepare for an interview, write a personal statement, or network effectively.

ESCP has also hosted a welcome day online via virtual event platform Remo. Through virtual booths designed by the school, candidates can visit different departments, sit in on master classes taught by ESCP professors, and meet the student services team.

Other business schools have made use of virtual events hosted by The MBA Tour, an event that allows schools to connect directly with candidates globally, engage in panel discussions on admissions topics, and share information and application materials.

To help convert candidates who receive an offer of acceptance from the school into full-time students, the U.K.’s Durham University Business School hosts pre-program “taster” sessions online. Amir Michael, Durham’s full-time MBA director, says the sessions target candidates during the time gap between receiving their offers and beginning the program.

“Building relationships with candidates in a friendly environment, and giving them confidence in our learning environment, is crucial.”
—Amir Michael

In today’s super-flexible, on-demand, online environment, keeping candidates engaged has become more challenging. But Michael says he’s observed an increase in conversion rates as a result of the sessions, which introduce candidates to aspects of the program and to the careers team.

“Having the right people to run such sessions is a key element of their success,” he says. “Building relationships with candidates in a friendly environment, and giving them confidence in our learning environment, is crucial, especially since the majority of students in our program are international.”

Virtual Assessment

MBA candidates are assessed for the same kinds of qualities and skills they were before COVID, but even more of the process has moved online, with video assessments or video essays used more widely now than in previous years.

Chris Healy, head of MBA marketing and recruitment at Alliance Manchester Business School, also in the U.K., says the school’s use of video assessments, alongside traditional essay questions and face-to-face interviews, is about personalization.

“The video assessment provides applicants with an opportunity to share what they will bring to our MBA in a more personal way and bring to life the person we’ve learned about on paper.”

The assessment consists of four questions—focused on motivations, leadership, problem solving, teamwork and empathy, and one lighthearted question—designed to be answered without prior preparation, helping Healy and his colleagues get a sense of candidates’ communication skills and critical thinking ability.

For standardized testing, the GMAT remains the most commonly used admission exam for graduate business education. The GMAT Online Exam, launched after the COVID outbreak, gives candidates the flexibility to take the test from home, where they are remotely proctored.

Frankfurt has also started working with online testing company Business Test Methods, which gives candidates a one-week window to take their admission test.

The schools are given access to a recording of the exam and are notified about any red flags, so the admissions team can monitor when an examinee leaves their computer or looks at a second screen. “We even had one guy get up and start ironing!” Matthews laughs.

A Human Touch

Business schools typically use internal process management platforms, like Slate, to automate elements of admissions, communications, and enrollment. Some use artificial intelligence chatbots on their websites to answer commonly asked questions posed by candidates.

However, schools are not yet ready to use the kind of AI tools leveraged by some companies to screen resumes and assess candidates. While the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is at the forefront of tech innovation in the sector, Dawna Levenson, assistant dean of admissions, says she’s keen to keep some level of human review.

“Most of our programs are in-person experiences. Whether recruiting or interviewing, in-person is an interesting part of the assessment process, both for candidates and for us, as we figure out the right candidates for the program,” she says.

To ensure a more human element, large information sessions have been replaced by intimate coffee chats at MIT, hosting around 15 to 20 participants.

MIT Sloan still plans to continue to interview and connect with candidates virtually this fall. To ensure a more human element, large information sessions have been replaced by intimate coffee chats hosting around 15 to 20 participants, where candidates can join in conversation with admissions staff, current MBA students, and alumni.

The intimate cohort experience at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the school’s key MBA selling points. The two-year, full-time MBA class hosts 160 students. To maintain a personal touch, each MBA candidate is provided with a primary contact on the admissions team and, increasingly, they communicate via text; something previously thought of as too personal has now become the norm.

Goizueta has also increased individual consultations, ensuring that everyone who wants to speak one-to-one with an admissions team member has the opportunity to do so. “Since COVID, we’ve taken on a reassuring role with students, helping them get to know the community and communicating why they should choose Atlanta when they haven’t visited yet,” says Melissa Rapp, associate dean of MBA admissions.

The school is still leveraging new technologies. An AI matching tool uses an algorithm to pair candidates with suitable students, alumni, or faculty as mentors, while the school is opening three next-generation “Global Classrooms” to create online and hybrid learning opportunities without sacrificing one-to-one connections.

Developed in partnership with X20 Media, the classrooms incorporate virtual reality as well as hologram-like technology that allows professors to bring in guest speakers from all over the world.

With multiple camera angles and state-of-the-art audio, faculty and students will be able to see and hear each other through a wall of 20 to 40 high-definition monitors, with each student’s video feed assigned to a different monitor. Real-time polls gauge the level of engagement the room, and breakout rooms allow for small group discussions.

Rapp plans to use the same technology for future admissions events. Yet, to date, “meeting people face-to-face, coming to campus, feeling that tight-knit community, and seeing the relationships between faculty, staff, and students—not being able to share that in person has been the biggest challenge,” says Rapp about the move online.

Among MBA admissions professionals, there’s still the feeling that something is lost in online admissions. Their ability to get a feeling for a candidate and judge the softer elements—communication and interpersonal skills—has weakened without in-person meetings.

Going forward, business schools will consider whether to continue using new technologies and virtual platforms or return to their pre-COVID processes. As with many other sectors altered by the pandemic, the result will most likely be a combination of both.

Marco De Novellis
Senior Editor, BusinessBecause & GMAC Media
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