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Monday, October 16, 2006

Another highlight on how top business schools woo younger students

Top business schools woo younger students
von Rebecca Knight (Boston)
Competition from law and public policy drives MBA programmes to relax expectations of work experience. Applications to full-time MBA programmes plummeted during the late-1990s internet boom.

Top US business schools are recruiting younger, less experienced candidates in an effort to boost applications and head off competition for the best students from other graduate programmes such as law and public policy. In an attempt to lure new students, leading business schools - including Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago and Wharton - have moved away from the unofficial admissions prerequisite of four years' work experience and instead have set their sights on recent college graduates and so-called "early career" professionals with only a couple years of work under their belt.

"There has been an assumption that to apply to an MBA programme with less than five years' work experience was a waste of time, and that's not true any more," said Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean of student recruitment and admissions at University of Chicago School of Business. "Schools want to attract the right students when they're ready."

Applications to full-time MBA programmes plummeted during the late-1990s internet boom. While applications have rebounded over the past couple of years, they are still not at the levels they were prior to the technology bubble, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the industry body. Meanwhile, applications to law schools have risen 16 per cent in the past five years, according to the Law School Admission Council. Applications to public policy schools have also increased. Both these graduate programmes tend to require less work experience and are therefore inclined to admit a large portion of new graduates.

Business school admissions officers said the new drive to attract younger students was in part the result of a realisation that they had inadvertently limited their applicant pool by requiring several years' work experience. Talented students who might otherwise have gone to business school instead opted for a law or policy degree because they were intimidated by the expectation of work experience. Admissions officers also said they had become more mindful of the various age-related life choices that young people - particularly woman - faced.

Questions about when to go full throttle on a career and when to start a family are all part of the graduate school equation, according to Thomas Caleel, the director of admissions and financial aid at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "We've come to understand that it's a much different life choice for a woman to get her MBA at age 23 versus 28," he said.

So far, efforts to attract younger students are paying off. The incoming crop of students at leading US business schools is younger and less professionally seasoned than in years past. At Stanford, for instance, the average number of years' work experience for the incoming class is 3.8 years, compared with an average of five years in 2001. About a dozen students in the class of 370 are straight from university. At MIT's Sloan School of Business, the average age of MBA candidates has been steady at 28 for many years but this year fell to 27. At Wharton, where there had been a de facto admissions policy of no fewer than four years' work experience, 3 per cent of this year's class of 800 students have less than two years' work experience.

The class also has 10 students who are new college graduates. Harvard Business School has also had success in encouraging younger applicants by doing away with the $235 standard application fee. At the University of Chicago, roughly 10 per cent of the incoming class have less than three years' work experience under their belt, compared with 2 per cent five years ago. "I'd like to get it up to 20 per cent," said Ms Martinelli


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