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MBA Admissions: Career Switchers Need Not Apply?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on a new trend in business school admissions – the involvement of career services staff in the admissions process.  While admissions officers have long included an assessment of “hireability” in admissions decisions, more schools appear to be giving career services staff a say in selecting the incoming class.

This has several benefits for schools, all of which help highlight ROI, enhance their competitiveness and differentiate the institution’s distinctive value proposition:

1)    It helps ensure that the schools can meet the career expectations of their students – as a result, students are happier and more satisfied with their experiences

2)    Corporate recruiters are more pleased with the quality and capabilities of the students that they interview

3)    The career services office has an easier time assisting students in their job search

4)    It has the potential for linking current industry trends with students interested in those fields.  This can help diversify the student body, among other benefits.

As the article points out, this approach provides stronger linkage between “inputs” and “outputs,” – a key focus of our work here at Eduvantis – eventually leading to happier students, satisfied recruiters and improved rankings.  There is merit to this as schools work to better align dimensions of how they compete with their core business strategy and brand.

A note of caution, however.  Let’s not forget that part of the MBA value proposition is that it offers time for reflection, exploration and preparation.  Not only for learning about marketing and finance, but for exploring the differences between investment banking and consulting or to consider what it might mean to work at Google, P&G or maybe become an entrepreneur.  Students get the opportunity to learn about new careers, investigate a variety of industries and reflect on their own values, strengths, and career goals.  If the only students admitted are the ones who are the most likely to gain jobs at the top employers, what is the role of the school in preparing business leaders – aren’t they already prepared?  For years, the MBA industry has been accused of being little more than a screening program for major companies.  As career considerations become more important in the admissions process, this accusation may become a reality—placing even more pressure on the already struggling value proposition.

Other Unintended Consequences

Increased emphasis on employability in the admissions process is also likely to reduce class diversity and breadth.  Given the current challenges facing international students in the U.S. job market, schools may limit their international admissions – not only reducing diversity, but potentially limiting an important source of revenue.  Students looking to make a major career transition will be at a disadvantage as will those from unusual backgrounds.  Students who want to make significant career changes won’t even get a second look.  The student body will become increasingly homogeneous and much less interesting.

So where is the industry likely to go?  The expectations of MBA students and the demands of corporate recruiters are unlikely to change anytime soon, so including the career team in the admissions process makes a lot of sense in today’s market and is likely to increase.  It will lead to greater student and recruiter satisfaction and simplify the task of the career team.  However, programs risk losing their power to transform students and create business leaders rather than simply credentialing them.

It may not, however, need to be an “either/or” proposition.”  Imagine a new type of program – maybe part-time or for just a few weeks – that provides students with the opportunity to figure out where they want to go in their careers (and lives) so that they are prepared for the MBA admissions process.  With such a program, business schools could reap the benefits of an admissions/careers linkage while meeting the assessment needs of its potential students, thus reclaiming their positions as true educators and places of transformation rather than assembly lines for corporate America.

From our perspective at Eduvantis, it remains a time of great challenges and perhaps even greater opportunities for institutions to provide differentiated value to all of their stakeholders through innovation across the enterprise.

Bill Kooser last served as Associate Dean at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Prior to his position at the Carey School, he was Associate Dean at Chicago Booth at the University of Chicago for 22 years.  In this role he was responsible for all administrative aspects of Chicago Booth’s Executive MBA Program on three campuses around the world. He also at various times had responsibility for MBA admissions, MBA Career Services, the development of an internal quality management program, and the development of new international relationships with other schools and businesses.