The Official Blog of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Better Market Your Business Master’s Program to Undergraduates (Now and After COVID-19)

Posted by Rebecca Loades
As Director, Master's Programs, Rebecca is responsible for developing and delivering the Council's strategy for business master’s programs around the world. She has a keen interest in promoting greater understanding and appreciation for this segment of graduate management education among schools, candidates, and stakeholders.

Posted on Jun 3, 2020 11:00:00 AM

Don’t wait for the new academic year, put these tips into action and get a head start on your marketing now. Using findings from a survey of current undergraduates, we’ve compiled actions you can do now that will help you meet the academic year head on. Read on to learn how you can better market your business master’s programs to undergraduate populations.

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Regardless of what a student studies for their bachelor’s degree, and where in the world they are, a business master’s is the most popular graduate degree option among undergraduates—beating even the MBA. Yet, for many universities, it can be a tough program to market given the diverse options and specializations it represents.

Findings from the recent GMAC Undergraduate Survey, however, can help universities better market their business master’s programs.

Prioritize the university’s website

Universities have a lot of marketing channels at their disposal. However, our research reveals that their website is the most powerful. More than any other source—be that rankings, search engines, online listings, business education sites, recruitment fairs, career centers, and more—the majority of undergraduates (73%) rely on university websites to find information about graduate study options. Undergraduate dependence on a university’s website also holds strong no matter where they are in the pipeline (awareness, consideration, or application stages). And considering that these results were collected prior to the pandemic, it is likely that current figures are even higher. 

Considering the value undergraduate students place on a university’s website at every stage in their journey, how can universities do the same? From easier navigation to more robust resources, tools, and information, schools should work to deliver more value and create a better online user experience for all visitors—whether they’re active shoppers, curious perusers, or other. This way, when students come looking, they can find the helpful information, answers, and support they need.

Now is the perfect time for universities to scrutinize their website through the lens of a student: What questions do prospective students have, how do they navigate around, what impression do they get of the school through the website, and how aligned are the “asks” made with their journey? Tracking website engagement and analytics with tools like Google Analytics is a good start, but why not leverage current students now to get qualitative feedback through online focus groups and website audits?

Collaborate with other schools

Among undergraduates interested in pursuing a business master’s degree, 82 percent want to change schools to obtain it. Given the current pandemic, this trend will likely continue into the future for students interested in studying domestically (or regionally in the case of Europe), and may decline for international study. Schools willing to work together have a tremendous opportunity.

Through collaboration, schools can establish mutually beneficial arrangements to promote each other’s programs. This helps schools expand their candidate pool and tap into audiences that are, in this instance, already primed and ready to switch schools. The key, however, is to identify the right partners.

Whether universities leverage existing reciprocity partnerships that have always worked or they forge new relationships with feeder schools, alignment is critical. Establishing a collaborative network where every participant believes in and understands their partners’ goals and the value they can deliver, is an important ingredient. Without this, it is hard for schools to credibly cross-promote each other's offerings and effectively win the attention and consideration of students. 

Reach students early

As it turns out, success and timing go hand in hand. With 29 percent of survey respondents indicating that they decided to pursue a master’s degree before entering undergraduate school and 70 percent saying they decided during their bachelor’s studies, it is clear that universities should get to students early in their education journey.

To reach students early, universities need to develop grassroots strategies to educate high school and undergraduate students on not only the value of continued education, but also their options. Strategies can include everything from keeping school guidance and academic advisors updated on program developments to leveraging faculty for on-site or virtual workshops, offering career events for parents and students, connecting high school and college students with graduate student mentors, and more.

These awareness-building efforts provide a platform for schools to promote business master’s as a category. By planting the seed early, universities can ensure that, when the time comes for a student to think seriously about continuing their education, they will have graduate school (and more specifically a business master’s degree) on their radar.

Leverage influencers

No matter where an undergraduate is from or what point they are at in their decision-making journey, family and friends are the top people they consult about graduate school. With 73 percent of undergraduates turning to family and 59 percent to friends, universities would be remiss to ignore the potential with this influencer segment.  

In addition to family and friends, universities should also consider how other influencers can benefit their efforts. Professors, for example, were cited by 31 percent of undergraduates as a go-to information source, as well as other students (36%), people working in the career they want (27%), and academic advisors (21%). 

When formulating their strategies, universities should evaluate how they can turn critical influencer groups into advocates for their school and its programs. Tactics such as these can help:  

  • Newsletters and promotional mailings to parent email and home addresses
  • Ambassador-building initiatives targeting alumni and student organizations
  • Social media groups that connect students and their friends with alumni and peers
  • Peer-to-peer outreach at undergraduate campuses of source schools
  • Content telling the stories of alumni and students through interviews, speaking engagements, social media takeovers, and testimonials.
  • Quarterly meetings and newsletters to educate career counsellors, academic advisors, and faculty on university offerings and accomplishments
  • An ambassador team made up of faculty that are active at the university, with student groups and partner schools
  • “Grad Week” where faculty dedicate time to answering student questions and addressing the pros and cons of a graduate management education

Align message with recruitment goals

Let’s say a university wants a more diverse student body. Not an uncommon goal, right? To achieve this objective—or another—it is important for universities to understand undergraduate interests and how they relate to each other.

For example, the research showed that undergraduates interested in finance as a business master’s specialization were more likely to also express interest in related fields of study like accounting or analytics. The same holds true for other like-minded interests, which revealed correlations between the following fields:

  • International business, strategy, and business
  • Leadership, entrepreneurship, and sustainability
  • Communications, marketing, human resources, and leisure/tourism
  • Project management and supply chain

So, what should universities do with this information? For one, they can use it to identify gaps and opportunities that could inform future curriculum, academic partnerships, and elective offerings. And secondly, it provides universities with a deeper understanding of student audiences. This, in turn, helps them better cross-sell their programs, develop more efficient and effective marketing initiatives, and craft better, more effective messaging that will resonate with the people they want to attract.

Universities can use this information to attract a diverse student body by communicating about their portfolio in a way that touches upon multiple interest clusters. But that does not mean that portfolios need to contain all specializations. If a school is not strong in a specialization, such as entrepreneurship, they could craft communications that demonstrate how their existing programs translate and will help students reach their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Above all, deliver value

The popularity of a business master’s among undergraduates is undeniable. Beating the MBA by 29 percentage points (76% considered a business master’s versus 47% an MBA and 35% both), business master’s programs are a deserving area for universities to turn their attention.

But how and in which direction? As discussed in this article, the GMAC Undergraduate Survey offers some actionable advice. Here are the takeaways:

  1. Above any other source and no matter where they are in their journey, the majority of undergraduates rely on university websites for information about graduate school options, indicating that universities must prioritize and optimize this marketing channel.
  2. The majority of undergraduates interested in pursuing a business master’s degree want to change institutions to do it, which means universities must develop collaborative, mutually beneficial partnerships with other institutions to reach these candidates.
  3. Most students decide to pursue a business master’s degree during or even before their time as undergraduates, making it critical for universities to introduce the idea of graduate school (and a business master’s) early in the education journey.
  4. Family and friends are the leading group that undergraduates consult about graduate school, proving that this is an important influencer segment for universities to include in their marketing strategies.
  5. By understanding how undergraduate interests cluster together, universities can craft strategic messaging to help them reach their audiences and recruitment goals.

Collaboration, timing, investment in one’s website, advocate building, and strategic messaging are critical ingredients in a university's ability to successfully market to candidates. With that said, there’s one thing all of these strategies have in common: their ability to deliver value. For more value-driving ideas, visit the GMAC Advisor blog.


Read more

This article is part of a four-part series.

  1. Better Market Your Business Master’s Program to Undergraduates (Now and After COVID-19) (this article)
  2. Bachelor to Business Master’s: What Motivates Certain Students to Make the Leap?
  3. Decoding Money Hesitations: Why Undergraduates Really Say ‘No’ to Graduate School
  4. How to Turn Non-Believers Into Graduate School Believers

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Viewpoints

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