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Social Networking Drives Recruitment for UCI MBA Program

As so-called "millennials" reach an age to enter business school in force, graduate schools must move quickly to create digital recruiting efforts that match the students they hope to attract.

Added to the mix is the fact that studies indicate graduate school applications tend to rise during economic downturns, as workers opt to step out of a slow job market and enhance their educations. Data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the graduate admission test known as the GMAT, shows that during the last four recessions, the number of graduate exams taken has risen each time.

At the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine, digital recruiting efforts are "becoming of huge importance," according to Jon Masciana, who is director of recruitment and admissions for the Fully Employed MBA program, one of four graduate programs offered by Merage. The Fully Employed MBA program is designed for working professionals, who complete the program in two to three years.

Millennials--generally defined as people born in the 1980s and 1990s--are just now moving into the business school age range. "We're definitely seeing an increase in applications," Masciana said.

The need for recruiting programs to change in order to address young graduate students on their own terms has happened very quickly, he said, leaving many graduate schools scrambling. "The impact from this change hit us very quickly," Masciana said. "We are adjusting quickly to this change in the marketplace for MBAs--things are moving at breakneck speed."

A basic theme runs through efforts at Merage: Coming up with ways for students--whether current, former, or prospective--to communicate through digital means. Students considering a graduate school have always been interested in reaching others in the program, of course, but today's digital tools make that sort of connection far, far easier. The trick is finding which tools will actually be used by students--and then promoting their use.

"It's really clear that prospective students want to talk about issues [such as] the return on investment" in attending Merage, Masciana said. "They want information from people who have gone through [the graduate program] or are currently going through it.... They find the most value in speaking to and hearing from students and alumni."

In an effort to accommodate those desires, the graduate school is moving quickly to adapt. One effort is a batch of recent studies the school has conducted, Masciana said, on issues such as how students search the Web. "We want to find out what is the most valuable information that we can provide to prospective MBA students."

One of the most successful digital recruiting programs that Merage has tried uses targeted advertising on LinkedIn, the networking site aimed at working professionals. "We know that lots of our prospective students use LinkedIn," Masciana said. In response, Merage has worked with LinkedIn to use geo-targeting--advertising that appears on the site only to someone within a certain distance of UCI, which is located in an upscale suburban area south of Los Angeles. Merage has also used LinkedIn advertising targeted to specific job titles including managers and other professionals.

The graduate school is also experimenting with Twitter, the social messaging site that encourages short, in-the-moment posts between members. Masciana said, however, that he hasn't yet seen the same interest in that tool as in LinkedIn. The school has also informally encouraged students to use the social networking site Facebook to connect with others.

Merage is also experimenting with more interactive uses of its Web site, based on feedback from students. First up: an interactive forum, as well as tools like blogging.

One area Masciana said needs attention at Merage is formal recruitment management software--almost a must in managing successful digital recruiting efforts. "We don't have a very robust CRM system right now; we're [probably going to] fill that gap very soon," he said. "We would like to target our e-mails better based on information we have."

Another tool Masciana said shows great promise, although he hasn't used it yet, is Socialcast, networking software that lets groups--such as Merage students--communicate in private online communities. Because Socialcast includes robust message storage and search features, Masciana said, it has potential for both social networking and knowledge management. The tool might be particularly helpful, he said, to students who have been admitted into Merage and want to make connections with other students before the program starts. "Within Socialcast, you're able to ask questions. Any piece of information is stored and searchable. [Students] can see ideas and questions, can rate users, ideas, questions. Socialcast has great potential."

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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