With yesterday’s release of the US News 2015 Business School ranking, comes the requisite stream of articles on how each school fared. Rather than risk offering our readers the sort of analysis they can already get from many other high quality news outlets, we wanted to use the occasion to offer up some words of wisdom when it comes to the various factors that shape applicant sentiment where schools are concerned.
Before we dive into our discussion of applicant sentiment (and how to track it), the US News rankings looked like this for the top 25:
1. Harvard University
1. Stanford University
1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
4. University of Chicago (Booth)
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
6. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
7.University of California—Berkeley (Haas)
8. Columbia University
9. Dartmouth College (Tuck)
10. New York University (Stern)
11. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor (Ross)
11. University of Virginia (Darden)
13. Yale University
14. Duke University (Fuqua)
15. University of Texas—Austin (McCombs)
16. University of California—Los Angeles (Anderson)
17. Cornell University (Johnson)
18. Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
19. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)
20. Emory University (Goizueta)
21. Indiana University—Bloomington (Kelley)
22. Washington University in St. Louis (Olin)
23. Georgetown University (McDonough)
24. University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)
25. University of Washington (Foster)
It goes without saying that for better or worse, rankings like the one above have an impact on applicant sentiment. Of course, we only know this because of the extensive survey work that has been done over the years to explore all of the factors that influence the applicant pool – such as friends & family, work colleagues, campus visits, admissions consultants, school web sites and more. In short, the only way to really understand why applicants have the opinions they do of your program is to regularly take the temperature of the applicant pool and those who influence these young professionals.
It is worth noting that many business schools conduct surveys when embarking on a re-branding campaign or seeking to fully understand their program’s reputation – but the vast majority of those surveys are limited to the following groups:
- Admitted applicants who opt to matriculate
- Admitted applicants who turn down the offer of admission from the school in question
- Prospects who have expressed an interest in the program but did not apply
- Current students
And yet, in order to truly understand applicant sentiment – and therefore take critical factors into account when marketing a program – we find that it’s vital to cast a wider net and consider some (if not all) of the following groups when conducting surveys:
- Rejected applicants
- Current, lapsed, and aspirational recruiters of the school’s graduates
- Applicants in the broader pool of GMAT (or GRE) test takers who meet or exceed the schools basic criteria when it comes to key metrics but who never approached the school (as a prospect or an applicant)*
- Admissions consultants
The key thing to note with this second group of options here is that one could argue (for various reasons) that none of the individuals represented are ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ of the school’s brand. For example, a school that ranks towards the back end of the top-20 may get a lot of valuable information about their brand by talking to candidates who applied to top-15 programs or to a range of recruiters than they would merely talking to their direct stakeholders (alumni, current students, matriculating applicants).
While we know we’ve merely scratched the surface on the subject of surveying the applicant pool and using data to drive subsequent marketing efforts, we want to stress that before you get into survey design or data analysis of survey responses, it’s critical to ensure that you are asking the right individuals to take part. Armed with the right set of individuals to survey, schools can be so much better equipped to adjust their marketing and attract the right candidates – thereby truly moving the meter when it comes to rankings.
*As most of our readers know, these kinds of prospects can be easily sourced from GMAC/GMASS and ETS.