Evolution of the MBA Tour

Danielle Boland, GMAC Connect Global Marketing Director

Headshot of Danielle BolandLike numerous organizations around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to quickly adapt our offerings. We completely reimagined The MBA Tour, turning it into a virtual program that provided schools with more flexibility and new ways to participate so they could meet recruitment goals. Due to the overwhelming success of The MBA Tour’s virtual events in 2020 (and in response to travel restrictions), we have continued to offer the virtual series in 2021 and expect it to remain a critical part of our offerings into 2022 and beyond.

Here’s a look at how The MBA Tour evolved and what’s next as we slowly head back to a new normal.

The MBA Tour Then – and Now

Prior to the pandemic, The MBA Tour ran more than 60 in-person events each year across six continents. Transitioning a high-touch, in-person event series into a virtual product was daunting. After hours (and hours!) of discussions and planning, we are thrilled to say that our new, virtual approach to The MBA Tour greatly surpassed expectations. (Take a peek inside a virtual Tour here.) In 2020, we ran 41 virtual events in the Summer/Fall and achieved close to 28,000 registrations and 11,000 attendees.

Virtual Conference ImageThis was a 29% increase in registrations and 31% increase in attendees compared to the same in-person events in 2019. Because geographical travel limitations no longer existed, candidates could attend from anywhere in the world, allowing schools to meet more candidates and a richer diversity of candidates at a single event.

Despite the inability to meet in-person, 48% of candidates said they are now considering applying to a school that they had not considered before coming to The MBA Tour.

Game-changing Improvements

A real gamechanger for us has been the new matching algorithm, which we use to connect candidates with schools for MeetUps, small-group conversations that allow candidates and schools to get to know each other. We know from experience that candidates don’t always have the right tools to assess which programs are the best fit for their aspirations. Because of GMAC’s 65+ year history of data science, research and GME market expertise, we were able to create an algorithm that analyzes and measures demographic, psychographic and behavioral data to provide recommendations. This level of matching had never been done in-person or online until the launch of the virtual Tour events. Some of the most positive feedback we received from schools has been the quality of candidates they interact with during MeetUps.

Another aspect of the Tour’s evolution that I’m particularly excited about is our Spotlight events, which allow schools the opportunity to reach niche audiences, showcase a wider range of program types and ensure the needs and interests of all candidates are being met. One Spotlight for Black and Latinx candidates received strong interest from schools, reflecting a growing interest in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

Spotlight events have also allowed us to respond to the explosive growth and interest in Masters programs. In Fall 2021, candidates globally will get the chance to attend the GMAC Masters Tour - Study in Europe or Study in North America. I expect that events specifically for Masters recruitment will play a big role in the evolution of The MBA Tour. 

Likewise, online MBA programs were already growing pre-pandemic and are now enjoying their moment in the sun. Our Spotlight series will also include a Spotlight on Online and Part-time MBA’s in September 2021. 

What’s Next for The MBA Tour

As our lives continue to return to normal in some parts of the world, we know schools are looking forward to meeting candidates in-person once again. In our conversations with schools, they have told us they miss the spontaneous chats that occur at their booth, and they have missed walking the room, making eye contact with candidates and encouraging candidates to consider their schools. One East Coast school recently told us, “We are a small program, but we do really well at in-person events because our team is very effective at working the room.” 

Infographic Regarding Travel in Fall 2021

Travel restrictions (understandably) continue to curb our ability to meet in-person. According to survey results of schools around the world, all international schools and some US-based schools cannot attend in-person events this fall. And then there are budget considerations. Quite a few schools around the world reported restricted, reduced or eliminated travel budgets. As one school in the Mid-West said, “We didn't budget for travel because at the time all events were scheduled to be online.”

We are optimistic about Fall 2021 in the US. Sixty percent of US schools we polled in June said they would be permitted to travel domestically this fall. As a result, we are planning to host two in-person events in the fall to complement our virtual program. Looking ahead to Spring 2022, most US and European schools are expecting a return to in-person recruiting and travel.

I fully expect The MBA Tour will look different in 2022, though I am not sure we will fully return to our pre-pandemic schedule. We anticipate running virtual events and supplementing those with in-person events in countries where it is safe and practical to travel. Schools have always utilized their in-country representatives and alumni to support their recruitment, and it’s likely this approach will play a larger role in schools’ strategies. 

One thing I know for sure is that the core foundation of The MBA Tour – our ability to attract the best and brightest candidates and connect them with leading schools through experiential recruitment – will never change. 

This year, we are hosting 50 virtual events in 35 countries and expanding our geographical reach even further. We have added new markets to our event mix including Kazakhstan and Central Asia, Costa Rica, Panama and South Asian countries beyond India.

If you’d like to learn more about participating in our summer/fall events, feel free to contact us at info@thembatour.com