I used to either breathe a sigh of relief or lose sleep after the round-three deposit deadline. This was usually the final round of our full-time MBA programs and the results showed the early composition of that fall’s MBA class. In my former life as dean of graduate admissions, I lived or died by these numbers.
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The full-time MBA class is often the one that the university’s leadership, board, and other stakeholders watch closest. Rightfully so, as the class profile is a major internal and external benchmark, affecting rankings and contributing significantly to net tuition revenue.
I was accustomed to having nearly all applications in my hands months before our final May deadline, but over the years, a shift started to take place. It would be April or May (or sometimes even June) and an application would trickle in. I would think, “There’s no way this can be a strong one.” To my surprise, the resume would be impressive, the application would be well put together, and the candidate would prove to be a strong interview.
This shift became a trend at my university, and in the last year of my work in the field, almost a quarter of all applications were submitted after the third round. When I joined EAB as a principal with our Adult Learner Recruitment team, I set out to discover if my experience with late MBA applicants was anomalous or if it was indicative of a new market trend occurring across multiple MBA programs. Here’s what we learned.
Not only is the late pipeline trend widespread, the applicants are worth waiting for
Our Adult Learner Recruitment analysts studied a subset of graduate business schools to understand when they received applications, how that compared to the timeline of their application rounds, and most importantly, if there was any correlation between when candidates submitted their application and if they were ultimately accepted and attended.
Our first finding matched my personal experience as a dean of graduate admissions. Across all of the graduate schools we analyzed, 30% of the applications came after the schools’ last deadlines. Not only is the late pipeline sizeable, but we found that late-application students were more committed than students who applied earlier. The average yield from this group was 57%, whereas the average yield from rounds one and two in this analysis were 33% and 31%, respectively.
When I would interview applicants during the admissions process, I found that late applicants were often considering just one school. In some cases, students had experienced life-altering events that impacted not only the timing of their application submission, but the timing of their overall interest in getting a graduate degree. Consider this when evaluating late applicants, as they may be staking their future in one program—yours.
You might be wondering, like I did, if these students are a good fit for your program and will meet your standards for academic quality. We found that late applicants had GPAs that were comparable to those from earlier rounds. And their GMAT scores not only met the programs’ standards, they were often higher than we expected them to be.
Three ways you can plan for enrollments from your late pipeline
There are a number of potential reasons for the late pipeline trend. Perhaps it stems from schools becoming more open to evaluating and admitting late applicants, or perhaps the candidates themselves have changed over the years. The truth is, we’re not really sure why this trend has emerged. Regardless, it’s worth factoring into your recruiting and admissions plan. And there are several things that graduate admissions teams can do to encourage and elicit late applicants and enrollments. Here are my top three:
1. Continue communication with your inquiry pool
After your round-three deposit deadline, proactively email students to inform them that you’re still accepting applications. Be sure to also update your website shortly after the deadline passes. In all communication, use copy that explicitly targets late applicants, but continues to drive urgency.
I once wrote a post for our graduate program blog that was entitled “Yes, Round 4 does exist!” that gave inquiries a glimpse into what happens toward the end of their MBA enrollment process and encouraged them to go ahead and apply late.
2. Reserve some of your scholarship funds for late enrollments
You’ll still need to leverage financial aid to help yield some of your late applicants. It will also help with maintaining a level of equity among students for merit-based scholarships, as you’ll be able to evaluate and direct aid across a larger pool of students.
3. Factor late applicants into your downstream enrollment plans
Scholarship funds aren’t all that require advanced planning. Don’t forget to include these students into your other activities, like housing, international student visas, and booth camp or prep workshop schedules.
As colleges and universities contend with general enrollment and revenue pressure, graduate programs are an increasingly important source of growth. My advice to graduate marketing and recruitment teams is stay close to your data and keep your eyes peeled for emerging trends like this late pipeline one. In my experience, the earlier you spot trends like these, the higher the likelihood you can avoid any disruptions to the student experience and capitalize on opportunities to capture a few more enrollments.