Soapbox

July 30, 2012 12:04 am

When it’s a generation thing

Business schools need to adapt to the changing application needs of Generation Y

Those of us who have been in the MBA education industry for some years had heard about the millennials even before they began trickling on to our campuses.

The millennials (aka “Generation Y” – those born in the late 1970s to mid-2000s) were expected to be technologically savvy and demanding – yet still attached to the apron strings. The increasing uncertainty in terms of politics and employment, combined with a generational tendency to delay passage to each stage of maturity, means that millennials tend to be more hesitant to act and also need input from many sources to guide them in their decision-making processes.

Now that these individuals have arrived en masse, MBA programmes are having to adapt to their way of doing things. For career services, this can mean that students ask for careers advice even before taking their first MBA class. This can be dealt with by advancing some training sessions (we start even before students arrive on campus) and dedicating extra time to career services during orientation week.

The millennials are increasingly choosing non-traditional post-MBA career paths and clamour for personalised service, demanding career advisers to take a more “headhunter-like” role. This is difficult to reconcile with the traditional structure of MBA recruitment and often scarce resources, but opens the doors to implement mentoring programmes to help with guiding students.

Professors note that students need more “hand-holding”. Accustomed to success, they often are frustrated by small hurdles – yet they also need more attention and more detailed instructions before starting projects. Millennials tend to be difficult to engage in class discussions and career activities, perhaps because they spend a lot of effort juggling their online presence, extracurricular activities and social life.

For admissions, it is important to identify both the need for more input as well as the key influencers in applicants’ decision-making. The trend we have noted in our role is a move from simply transmitting information toward a more involved and advisory role. We have seen an increase in requests to guide applicants in their admissions process – anything from comparing schools or putting applicants in touch with alumni, to requests for help reviewing admissions essays before submitting them to the admissions committee (no, we do not do this!).

This has led to a demand for admissions team training sessions in areas such as coaching, to help applicants question their motivations and values to determine their fit for the MBA and also to help manage expectations regarding their MBA experience and their post-MBA career. Knowledge-sharing with the career services department can also support this career advising function.

According to a recent Pew Research article, college students speak to their parents an average of 1.5 times per day. This means that the role of parents in decision-making is much more important. For business schools this could mean gearing some admissions efforts towards parents and other opinion influencers and encouraging families to join campus open days more frequently than in the past. Some schools even connect applicants with each other in the application stage before admission to the programme, as they feel that this can help applicants with their choices.

Familiarity and use of technology is very high among the millennials. Consequently admissions departments need to make marketing efforts on the school’s main website and also in social networks. However, the volume of information available can be overwhelming and applicants appear to welcome any help in summarising the available information and presenting it in synthesised form. The ability to communicate messages in smaller, concise “sound bites” can also be key to reaching this complex audience.

It is clear that the generational change will have some impact on all those departments that deal with MBA students. How this change is dealt with can make a huge difference to how information is transmitted and interpreted and successful business schools will be those that are able to adapt their communication and structure to the changing needs of their applicants and students.

Mary Granger is associate director, MBA admissions and career services, Asia, at Esade Business School.

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