12 April 2021
Dare to be different: standing out in the crowded Business School market

The climate across Higher Education is changing. Competition between providers is fierce, and schools are fighting to make themselves distinctive. Business Schools are no exception. 

The student of today is also rapidly changing. There is greater diversity than ever before: a wider range of ages and broad demographic splits. They are all looking for something different. 

How do you make your business school stand out against the many other providers, and how do you make it appeal to every student? 

Industry relevance 

Business Schools must ensure that activity in the classroom is being directly linked to the world of work. 

Demonstrating your industry relevance prominently is essential. 

Identify and promote the innovations that are happening in your curriculum. Make direct links between what is taught in the classroom, and how it relates to the world outside it. Embed case studies and real life stories into your teaching and your marketing. 

You should promote the stories of students who have entered industry in your student recruitment, but also throughout your curriculum and to your alumni.

And don’t neglect those industries outside of consulting and financial services. Prospective students looking at business schools are increasingly looking beyond the traditional MBA pathways. They want to know that what they learn will be relevant to areas such as tech, third sector, fashion, luxury, retail. Make sure you are showing your relevance across a range of fields.

Demonstrate that you take the world outside of academia seriously, and that you can support students with a diverse range of ambitions. 

Meet them where they are

The way everyone consumes media is changing. In 2015, 16-34 year olds spent most of their time-consuming media on TV. In a matter of years, social media and online video have surged in popularity and overtaken TV for the first time.

A good presence across platforms is essential. 

Peer reviews are growing in importance. We all visit TripAdvisor before going on holiday or choosing a new restaurant. Students are also researching reviews and opinions before making a decision about their education. 

Your current students and alumni are talking about you online, sharing their experiences and offering their advice. The more you can control that narrative, and provide resources to help, the more you will stand out. 

Rene Helmans is the International Programs Promotion Specialist at Kozminski University, Poland. He said: “We believe that for a potential candidate it is more valuable to gain information from their peers than from official representatives.” 

Kozminski University used Unibuddy’s digital peer-to-peer to allow their prospective students to connect with a current student and hear about the experience first-hand. Rene said: “The quality of those conversations has really surprised me. I thought they might return a few times – but candidates are returning several times and making a real connection.” 

Are you communicating with them in the right way? As your cohort gets younger, email will no longer be the primary platform for them. WhatsApp and other chat services are already growing in popularity and platforms like Slack are providing a real-time chat to replace ‘old school’ email. 

Student stories

At first glance, the core content of most MBA programmes will appear very similar to students. What will set yours apart is the community around it. Classmates, alumni, staff: showcasing that network is essential. 

Students that are considering studying at a business school want to feel that they will fit in with your current student cohort. They want to identify people who are like them and who are from similar backgrounds. 

They also want to see the impact that your business school has had for students with a similar regional and professional profile to their own. 

You should share students’ stories of success and showcase your community in a prominent way. 

At Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, they put their students front and centre by embedding student profiles online using Unibuddy. 

Johanna Goossens, Recruitment Communications Officer at the school, said: “It is very important for prospective students to hear from current students and it is very impactful, hearing from a current student really will make the difference.” 

International outlook 

How international is your business school, and how well are you promoting that? 

Prospective students are looking to access a diverse range of ideas and practices. Is this represented in your student cohort, faculty and curriculum?

Diversity is one of the biggest draws for business school students, particularly those who are interested in studying in Europe. You should ensure you are promoting your school as a diverse and welcoming population – inside and outside the classroom. 

That will help you draw in students. And it’s a virtuous circle: diversity breeds diversity, which leads to greater innovation and more ideas in the classroom. 

Showcasing your community is a great way to demonstrate that you are a diverse and welcoming community, and that will make your school distinct. 

Create belonging

Belonging is the intangible, immeasurable quality that the most successful schools are prioritising in their strategy. The business schools that stand out the most are the ones that students feel a part of before they even arrive, and for long after they leave. 

Imperial College Business School embed their community throughout the student journey. Students  considering applying are invited to connect with a current Imperial student. 47% of those that do go on to submit their application, showing the power that a sense of belonging has. 

Promoting your network and your community, showcasing your diversity, and putting your students at the front and centre of your communication is vital. 

Over 400 business schools and institutions around the world are using Unibuddy to create belonging among their students. The platform is easily embedded on your website, and allows your current students, staff and alumni to create content and chat with those considering studying at your institution. 89% of students who use it feel more confident about their fit with the institution. 

It’s that confidence, belonging and sense of community that will make your business school stand out from the crowd. 

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