HBS received a record 8,893 applications for the roughly 900 slots in the class &-almost 10% higher than last year’s level.
While the slowing economy likely played a signifigant role in sparking the increased interest, Britt Dewey, who took over as managing director of admissions and financial aid in June, also noted that the admissions office had increased its marketing efforts over the past year. Dewey is a member of the HBS Class of 1996, and has worked for the school in various capacities since 1997.
Changes in students’ plans can still occur, so it’s still too early to tell exactly how many students will actually register. But Dewey said it would be close to the target enrollment of about 80 students in each of 11 sections.
Meanwhile, similarly preliminary numbers indicate that the Class of 2003 will enjoy increased representation from women, members of minority groups, and international students.
The gender mix is likely to rise to 35% women from 33% in the Class of 2002, and 22% of the newcomers will be members of minority groups versus 20% in the previous year.
Slightly more than a third&-34%&- of the incoming class will hail from outside the U.S., representing 68 countries. The Class of 2002 had a 32% international representation, and 69 countries in all.
‘New Economy’ Overhang
The admissions officers said it was hard to tell how much of the additional interest in enrollment was due to the slowdown in the national economy, and particularly the fact that many Internet companies were shut down over the past year.
However, Eileen Chang associate director of admissions, said she believed that the absence of “get rich quick” opportunities from Internet companies encouraged prospective applicants to think more seriously about whether they should apply to business schools.
“People are being more thoughtful when it comes to getting their MBA, and that’s good for their applications, and it’s good for HBS,” Chang said. “In a different environment, when people were going to startups, I don’t think as many people stopped to really appreciate the things you can learn in business school.”
“As a result, we’re seeing a stronger applicant pool, in which people are really thinking about it, and applying for the right reasons,” she said.
New Web Presence
And to help those prospective students gauge whether HBS was the right place for them, the department launched a new web site last November, which is accessible via www.hbs.edu/mba/index.html. Dewey and Chang said the site is the centerpiece of the enhanced effort to communicate with potential applicants.
In addition to encouraging prospective students to reflect on why they might apply to business school generally, and HBS in particular, the site also includes some practical tools that have proven wildly popular&-60% of this year’s applicants submitted their applications electronically.
Overall, on the marketing front, the admissions officers said their efforts are also made easier by the fact that current students are willing to volunteer to educate prospective applicants about the school and to advise the admissions office about the key messages that should be communicated to applicants.
“That feedback is invaluable to us,” Dewey said, openly hoping that the trend will continue in the Class of 2003. “There are real opportunities to invest back in the community by working with MBA Admissions and Financial Aid.”
For instance, Dewey said that this year, for the first time, the school formally advised students to apply in the first or second rounds of application reviews&-not because it gave them a better chance to be admitted, but because it would give them more time to prepare for HBS.
Another first this year were the two, two-day “admit weekends,” which about half of all accepted applicants attended. Chang said a core group of students generated the idea, and their work made the events possible.
Other marketing efforts include expanded domestic and international visits by members of the admissions staff to regions where prospective students are located&-including the office’s first trip to the Asia/Pacific region in at least five years.
Along the way, the admissions officers are also stressing the message of the early career initiative: That there is no minimum time an individual has to spend in the workforce before they are “eligible” to apply to HBS.
“We’re focused on getting the message out that ‘you’re the best judge of when you’re ready to apply to HBS,'” Dewey said. If people wait too long&-and the opportunity costs they face from leaving their jobs rise too far&-“you might take yourself out of the process too early.”
However, Dewey cautioned against expecting to see an immediate,
dramatic impact from the program on the average age of the Class of 2003. “This is a long-term effort.”