Students as Consumers: Understanding Candidate Motivations

President and CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, Sangeet Chowfla, sits down with Dan LeClair of AACSB and discusses treating potential business school students as consumers when recruiting.


Dan LeClair: [00:00] We talk a lot about the changing student in our business. I talk a lot with deans. Often, it's about how they're getting older. It's about where they're coming from geographically, but I know there's so much more to understand.

[00:27] I know that G Max had taken a deeper dive to understand students and to think about them, not only in terms of demographics but in terms of motivations and behaviors. Can you tell us a little bit about that work and what you've learned?

Sangeet Chowfla: [00:43] Yes. This has been a really big effort for us this particular year. We do it in the framework of a couple of things that are going on.

[00:52] One is, there's been increasing globalization of management education. Traditional business schools, particularly ones in the United States and the U.K., have been habituated by having large international populations coming to their business schools. Some of that's beginning to change given BREXIT and the US election and we've got data that's beginning to show up about that.

[01:16] The other thing is that there's been a growth of quality business schools around the world. Candidates around the world now just have a lot of more choices. Because they have more choices, the power, if you will, in traditional terms is shifting towards the candidates who are becoming the buyers and the customers.

[01:34] LeClair: It's not just one way anymore.

[01:36] Chowfla: It's not one way any longer, exactly. What we're saying is selection is becoming a two way process. It's no longer about schools selecting from candidates who've applied to them, it's about candidates who are selecting schools.

[01:50] In that environment, it's much more important for us to start understanding the motivations of candidates, the way they make a purchase decision, perhaps in a very classic consumer marketing sense. That's what we're trying to do.

[02:05] LeClair: Were there any big surprises?

[02:06] Chowfla: Yes and no. What we did was, we did a study in 15 different countries around the world and normalized all the data. We came up with seven distinct segments, seven different sets of behaviors, if you will, that we were able to identify.

[02:20] What we did find was that all seven segments exist pretty much in every market. To that extent, everybody is sort of homogeneous, but there are large differences within different countries.

[02:31] For example, China is over indexed in people who we call "Career revitalizers." These are people whose career has already grown so much and they're saying, "Help. Give me the skills to catch up," as a result of the growth of the Chinese economy.

[02:53] India is very different. It's over indexed in what we call "Global strivers." These are people who are trying and build a global career. I'm very, very concerned at this point of time with the protectionist sentiment that is happening around the world.

[03:06] In the US, about 40 percent of candidates are what we call "Respect seekers." They really are looking at brands.

[03:13] What we found was that these groupings respond to very different messages. The message for business schools that we were able to find is that you can't reach candidates using a one size fits all approach.

[03:27] You just can't say American students or Indian students or Chinese students or German students. We have to understand them at a much deeper level and target them and build educational programs for them in a much more nuanced kind of fashion.

[03:43] LeClair: That's very interesting. I'm sure a lot of what you've learned will be very beneficial, valuable to schools as they promote their programs.

[03:51] Chowfla: We hope so.

Filmed February 2017 on site at AACSB's Deans Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.