Exploring virtual student recruitment strategies with UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business

How can institutions with strong brand recognition locally attract students globally? Read on to learn how UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business found strong MBA candidates with QS Virtual Events.  

Inthe spring of 2020, representatives from the University of California at Irvine (UC-Irvine) Paul Merage School of Business took part in one of the first QS virtual events to be held in response to the global coronavirus crisis. 

How QS connected them with outstanding MBA candidates is a story of strategic partnering, and effectively harnessing institutional brand to attract the right candidates. 

For the southern California-based public business school, finding new prospects has proven a local endeavour, with Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas providing a strong source of talent, in turn developing into a strong student pipeline with accessible alumni across all cities. 

When the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down campuses and made meeting with local prospects more challenging, however, local student source markets seemed more far away than ever.

“2020 was challenging”, said Jennifer Risner, Paul Merage School’s Director of Admissions. “We were faced with the fact that no one can walk in the door, students don’t stumble on to the campus; a friend can’t bring them by. But the organisations that have adapted so that we can take things online—that has given us the opportunity to continue those relationships and has made all the difference in the world.” 

Before the pandemic, a typical QS student recruitment fair was an immersive experience, with panel discussions and speaking events, representatives showcasing their brand with booths and QS staff guiding students towards institutions of interest. QS Connect events allowed students to engage in pre-arranged, one-on-one meetings with representatives after a QS counsellor had matched them with schools that met their unique background and interests.

By the spring of 2020, all QS fairs and Connect events were transformed, moving online to meet the needs of a changing virtual landscape. Paul Merage School was among the hundreds of QS partners that season to hold virtual QS Connect meetings with pre-counselled MBA candidates.  

According to Lindsay Haberman, the Merage School’s Assistant Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the full time MBA, “the good thing is that moving recruitment online has created more reach and accessibility to prospective students that are on the east coast or international”.

Lindsay says that another bonus to online recruitment is having alumni assist with marketing campaigns. “It’s allowed us to say, ‘Hey, would you mind hosting a webinar or jumping on a quick call?’ and being able to utilise the virtual environment quickly and effectively.” 

According to Lindsay, “for us, student recruitment is also about brand recognition. When we partner with organizations like QS, it really helps us get our story and our brand out there. I think that’s important when you’re looking at business schools. It gives us access to a broader audience—that is something that QS has really helped us with”.

QS had a chance to speak with Lindsay and Jennifer to learn about their experience in moving student recruitment online, attending a QS Connect event, and about how QS helped them find ideal MBA candidates. 

What has been it like to work on virtual student recruitment events? 

Lindsay: At first it was a complete learning curve for many of us that have done events in the past. But I think after the first event, we saw how things played out and the kind of support the QS Connect team provided. I think from beginning to end, QS was there every step of the way to help us navigate this new setting, whether it was arranging meetings or helping us with matching candidates—they also did a lot on the front end which allowed us to have high quality and meaningful meetups. So, I think the initial challenge was just a learning curve. 

I will say, the quality of the QS events we have had over the months has been fantastic—we’ve really gotten to meet a lot of very diverse, quality students in the virtual setting. And again, it’s been the support of QS from beginning to end. Whether it’s helping us prepare for an event or during, QS is there to jump in and make sure we have everything we need. Then after, having a short turnaround time to obtain leads. We can then easily move to nurture those relationships into applications to the program.  

As a result of this pandemic, were there any positive outcomes that you weren’t anticipating through the shakeup in this industry? 

Jennifer: One of the biggest surprises that has come, well I guess two surprises is that enrolment did not decline. I have heard from colleagues that have been in admissions for longer than I that when we hit a recession, education does increase. People start to re-examine: ‘how do I protect myself next time?’ And we all know that the higher the education, the less impact the unemployment through a recession will have on your life and your career.  

We’ve also had to work in unique ways this year to get to know each other, to get students to get to know each other once they became a part of the class. And part of it is also working with an organisation like QS to find out how we adapt and keep this great relationship between our two organisations, when we’re all working hard for that student. 

What kind of advice would you have for student recruiters that are trying to build the right connections and find the right candidates under these new circumstances? 

Jennifer: For my colleagues, and for anyone sitting in admissions and recruiting, anything that anyone can do right now is really be aware of our school brand. Who are we as a school is not changing during the pandemic; how we are doing things is changing during the pandemic. 

If you know your brand, then you know what you’re seeking in your students and you know what organisations to partner with in your efforts. You can find those external resources that work for you, such as working with QS. 

To learn how QS Virtual Events can help you meet your student recruitment objectives, please speak to the QS Digital & Events team to discuss solutions.  


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