Graduate Management News

July 2015

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Take it From Your Applicants: Mobile May Be More Important Than You Think

B-schools have an opportunity to meet prospective students where they are with mobile content.

Take it from your Applicants

You’re in line at Starbucks. Or sitting down at a movie theater. Or stuck in traffic on the highway. Look around. What do you see? Most likely you see heads down and thumbs scrolling as those around you consume mobile content.

Like it or not, the use of mobile devices has grown exponentially over the last few years across the world and especially among young people. These recent advancements in mobile technology have created a fundamental shift in content consumption—b-school applicants not only want, but expect to be able to access information whenever they want, from wherever they are. This has enormous implications for how you connect with prospective students and develop your mobile strategy.

Are your business programs adapting admissions content to meet today’s mobile preferences? 

Throughout the year, GMAC asks prospective students to identify their leading sources of information when researching graduate management education (GME). The results remain fairly consistent—the most frequently cited information sources in 2014 were school websites (83% of survey respondents selecting) followed by friendsMobile User 1 and family (54%), and mba.com (50%), the web portal for registering for the GMAT exam. And although most prospective students are active on social media, only around 23 percent explicitly use these channels to actively research GME. 

In late 2014, GMAC teamed up with Southwark Consulting to dive further into mobile behavior and find out what devices, platforms, and social media channels today’s business school candidates are using. We surveyed more than 700 global prospective students who had registered on mba.com and the findings were clear: Nearly every business school prospect owns a smartphone (96%) and nearly 2 in 3 (64%) spend more than two hours a day interacting with their device. Although tablet usage is less ubiquitous (around 50% ownership with fewer than 30% using the device for more than two hours daily), tablet users (51%) are more likely than smartphone users (40%) to spend device time browsing the web. Responsive web design, which adapts content automatically to various screen sizes, therefore appears to be useful for a student audience that jumps between mobile devices and personal computers (PCs). 

Smartphone usage among prospects is largely split between two smartphone types: the narrow majority of users (52%) report using Apple iOS devices, while 42 percent use Android powered smartphones. Very few report using other mobile systems such as Blackberry or Windows Mobile. Usage also varies by region. Android is the dominant platform in the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South Asia (including India), whereas Apple iOS devices are more prevalent in East and Southeast Asia (including China), North America, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Although mobile web content renders similarly regardless across most smartphones, dedicated apps are generally developed for specific operating systems. 

Is there an appetite among candidates for mobile apps from individual business schools?

Creation of standalone mobile apps can be an expensive and cumbersome undertaking. And even if your school were to develop such an app, who’s to say prospects would actively engage with it? They would, according to the survey results, as long as the content was right, such as an app designed specifically for the admissions process. An overwhelming 78 percent of respondents said they would download an app for a specific business school if it included important information such as application deadlines/status, tuition summaries, program offerings, and the application itself. Your mobile app would need to stand out, though. The average prospective student has more than 30 apps on her smartphone and uses only eight on a regular basis. 

Mobile User 2If you ultimately decide that developing an app doesn’t make sense for your school, it becomes even more important that your school’s website is optimized for mobile access. 

Where do prospects turn for news and information?

The PC isn’t dead yet. A full 87 percent of respondents report using PCs at least once a day to check the news. This edges out the 84 percent of respondents using mobile devices daily for this purpose. The story is different, however, for traditional media. Fewer than 2 in 5 prospects use television (38%), radio (28%), and print media (26%) on a daily basis to keep up with current events. Clearly, the internet is a primary source of news for this audience. Online news sources can be divided into three categories: 

  • News websites (e.g., The Financial Times at ft.com): The primary source for 41% of candidates 
  • Social media sources (e.g., Twitter): 38% of candidates 
  • News aggregators (e.g., Google News): 20% of candidates 

Men report using news websites most frequently to get information (46% of respondents), whereas women are more likely to consult social media (51%). 

Which social media sites engage b-school prospects? 

Facebook (87% of respondents) and LinkedIn (82%) are the most actively used social media sites among today’s b-school prospects. Frequency of use is greater for Facebook (81% of respondents use it daily) compared with LinkedIn (40% use it daily). As business school candidates’ most preferred channel for receiving information on graduate management education, however, LinkedIn was endorsed more frequently than Facebook (72% versus 47%), perhaps not surprising due to the professional focus of the network. 

Twitter is the third most important network, but lagged behind both Facebook and LinkedIn in reach, engagement, and appeal as a source of information on GME, as the figure below displays. In certain parts of the world, some leading social media sites are blocked and local alternatives have emerged. In China, for instance, WeChat and QQ have significant traction. 

Daily Media Use

What is your mobile marketing plan?

GMAC research shows that individuals who sit for the GMAT exam, apply to business school, and earn a GME degree report immense value from their entire educational experience. Many business schools have the opportunity to do better job on the front end, however, by creating marketing strategies and delivering content through channels and formats that adjust for current mobile preferences. This will ensure that new prospective applicants can engage more easily with your admissions process and get the information they seek from your school. 

The next time you see a 25-year old woman with her head down, thumb scrolling, and oblivious to the world, imagine that she is searching your website for an MBA application deadline. Did she find what she was looking for or did she give up and go to Pinterest? 

GMAC and Southwark are each committed to helping schools navigate the business school application process to engage more effectively with global prospects. The research findings above, though not surprising, clearly underscore the importance of having a well-defined marketing strategy to reach today’s mobile-first generation. You can download the full white paper here and discuss how your program is positioning mobile content to prospective students by commenting on Southwark’s blog.


About the Author

Alex ChisholmAlex Chisholm is director, Statistical Analysis & Research at the Graduate Management Admission Council.