At some top business schools, going through the admissions process just got easier.

With the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Columbia Business School, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and IE business school in Madrid centralising their business school admissions offices, students who get rejected from one programme can more easily be offered admittance to another offering.

Combined admissions allow schools “to cherry pick those whose academic profile may be at the low end for the full-time MBA, but may be quite solid or better than the norm for the part-time [MBA] or the EMBA,” says Dan Bauer, managing director of the MBA Exchange, a Chicago-based admissions consulting firm that counsels applicants about getting into top schools. For example, students with low GMAT scores but valuable work experience may be rejected from the full-time programme, but admitted to the EMBA cohort because of work credentials, say admissions staff.

Admissions once comprised several smaller offices along with one big budget full-time admissions office. Now one office shares all responsibilities such as marketing and counselling potential students. To hit their recruiting target, schools now need to ensure top students find a fit with one of their programmes – not just the traditional full-time MBA. Admissions counsellors are at the centre of the integration and are being trained to market all offerings including part-time and executive programmes.

Having everything under one admissions umbrella helps send the message that students are getting one high-quality degree, no matter the format, says Amir Ziv, vice-dean at Columbia Business School, who helped centralise admissions at the school two years ago. Before then “the full-time MBA and EMBA were separate divisions and instead of co-operating they were almost competing [for students],” says Mr Ziv.

In practice, the quality of degrees at business schools varies greatly and top full-time MBA programmes don’t always have equally competitive part-time or executive offerings. Centralised admissions can create more consistency across programmes, because funnelling rejected full-time applicants towards executive or part-time options can raise the academic profile, Mr Bauer points out. When compared with full-time programmes, “the GMAT scores and the GPA can be significantly lower at an EMBA [programme] and somewhat lower at a part-time programme,” he says.

At IE the new system helps to prevent qualified students from slipping through the cracks and encourages them to attend programmes elsewhere, says Lisa Bevil, director of full-time admissions at the school. Strong candidates who are turned down for the flagship International MBA programme now go through a more formal counselling process about which other programmes could be a fit. The crossover rate – students who applied to one programme but study in another – is now 10 per cent of accepted students, she says.

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business combined admissions two years ago. So far, 130 students have applied to its part-time programme instead of the EMBA because of advice from admission counsellors, says Soojin Koh, admissions director at the school.

“They would have all applied to the EMBA and probably would have not been admitted, because they had mis-evaluated their experience.”

Beyond the perks of extra recruits, combined admissions allow schools to limit costs. [Previously] “We didn’t have shared accountability for the enrolment results . . . there was no formal process for cross selling and there was no co-ordinated marketing plan,” says Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admission at Duke. Now, “we save a significant amount of money just by co-ordinating the [recruiting] schedule”.

But even as schools reassess their admission structures, some prefer to keep certain areas separate. London Business School has centralised marketing and recruiting efforts, but keeps admissions separate. Before applying, candidates have a chance to have a CV review with counsellors and discuss which programme would be the best fit. But once a student applies, admissions remain separate. Having admissions focus on only one programme format creates a stronger class, says Gareth Howells, deputy associate dean for degree programmes.

“We recognise that each programme is looking for different requirements,” he adds.

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