Graduate Management News

July 2015

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Design Thinking and Experience Mapping: A Student-Centered Approach to Admissions

A year ago, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, in partnership with Peer Insight and Southwark Consulting, initiated a design thinking and experience mapping exercise in an effort to gain deeper insight into our applicant pool.

Annual Conference

Now, one year after starting the process, we’re ready to share our results and reflect on the value this exercise has added to our admissions efforts.

In the experience mapping exercise, Peer Insight interviewed a cross section of our applicants (e.g., those who were admitted and enrolled, admitted and declined, and those who were waitlisted) to learn how they experience the Georgetown MBA admissions process. By studying applicants from the time they begin to research schools until they decide to enroll, our team mapped the highs and lows of these applicants’ experiences. As a result, we gained insights into which areas of the admissions process have been successful and opportunities for improvement.

Our next step was to create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and tangible) goals aimed at either elevating a high or alleviating a low. While we may have been able to outline these goals without Experience Mapping, I found the exercise valuable in facilitating brainstorming with a purpose. Instead of simply creating innovative ideas and implementing them, we strategically organized and prioritized our ideas with a specific goal in mind—to provide a student-centered, high-touch experience. 

The interviews and subsequent Experience Mapping exercise also provided a central and consolidated visual representation of what our applicants think of our entire experience. Before this exercise, our feedback from applicants—both positive and constructive—was not organized in an aggregated format or in the context of the entire admissions experience. Instead of reacting to disjointed emails from applicants at random times throughout the year, this process allowed us to observe collection points of highs or lows and then act in a more organized and strategic way. 

In addition to mapping the results of the applicant interviews, we also used the interview data to create four personas or “types” of applicants (e.g., good feeling seeker, data enthusiast). Understanding the unique differences of the four personas allowed us to better train our staff on how to provide a more personalized, high-touch experience that is not one-size-fits-all. The information gathered from these personas also provided insight to our internal marketing team and external marketing firm on how best to target and segment our communications as we speak to the varied motivations and desires characteristic of each applicant persona. 

As a result of this experience, the phrases “student-centered” or “customer-centered” often are used by our team members when they justify their decisions. This is paramount. It always has been my goal for our team to provide a positive experience for everyone who interacts with the Georgetown McDonough MBA Admissions team, all the way from the person we admitted with a full-tuition scholarship to the person we were unable to admit. I want prospective students and applicants to walk away from an interaction and tell their friends and colleagues that there is something special going on at Georgetown. In fact, of the respondents to a survey that we send to all students who are admitted, more than 90 percent say that based on their interactions throughout the admissions process, they would be willing to recommend the Georgetown McDonough Full-time MBA program to a colleague who is interested in pursuing an MBA. 

This is the first time that we have incorporated this net promoter metric, so while we don’t have a year-over-year comparison, the results are very positive. We are achieving the results that we wanted and continue striving to provide a student-centered approach. 


About the Author

Shari HubertShari Hubert is associate dean, MBA Admissions, Georgetown McDonough School of Business.