At Southwark Consulting, we talk a lot about ‘applicant service’ – which is really just fancy speak for the level of ‘customer service’ business schools are providing to the pool of prospects and applicants. In the early phases of the admissions and recruiting process, all candidates are treated more or less equally – and handled with the increasing levels of care (coddling?) that today’s applicants demand. But not all applicants are created equal and as the admissions process moves forward many candidates are slated for the ‘denied admission’ pile. In fact, many schools will reject at least half of those applicants they see every year. Today’s post is therefore about the level of ‘applicant service’ you are providing to the candidates you reject. Why does this matter, you ask? Read on.
My first mentor in the MBA admissions domain was a director of MBA admissions at the Wharton School. While schooling me on best practices in shaping an incoming MBA class at one of the world’s leading programs, he said something that shocked me. He told me that he didn’t really worry too much about the 1000 or so candidates that he admitted to Wharton – he knew they’d be taken care of and have a great impression of Wharton via interactions with faculty, career services and fellow students. The people he did worry about, he said, were the more than 5000 applicants he rejected every year!
Before I could tell him that I thought he was crazy to worry about the candidates who didn’t even make the cut, he quickly went on to explain that he viewed the 5000 people he rejected as being future supporters and advocates of the Wharton brand. In his view, many (if not most) of the ‘rejects’ would end up pursuing an MBA elsewhere and rising in their careers to a point where they may need to mentor the next wave of applicants or make MBA hiring decisions. He told me that to the extent that the candidates he rejected could ‘walk away happy’ – or at least with a feeling that they had been treated fairly and had been ‘wowed’ by Wharton in the process – that he felt he was securing the pipeline and brand of Wharton for the long-term.
This approach shaped my own admissions philosophy and while it may need to be taken with a grain of salt, I encourage business schools to give this some thought and to assess the level of service they are providing to those applicants who don’t make the cut.