Will Your Brand Support This Dialog?
Today’s young adults value and trust their parents’ input for many important decisions. Education is a huge decision, and many are actively considering getting a masters’ degree. And, The Council for Graduate Schools, which captures data from institutions that confer over 74% of masters’ degrees, reported over 1 million applications for masters’ degrees in 2011, ultimately yielding enrollment of approximately 400,000. Most young adults who are attending college will be home over winter break, raising the opportunity for in-depth conversations with some of their most trusted advisors: Mom and Dad.
Janet Beagle, Associate Director of Recruitment Services at Purdue University’s Graduate School, observes that there has been an increased trend in parent involvement:
“About five years ago, we noticed that a few parents were coming to the Big Ten+ Graduate School Expo with the graduate student candidate. Most of these parents are there to observe, learn and listen.”
Janet describes three distinct segments of graduate school candidates. The first segment is Working Professionals, like teachers or businesspeople that want to advance their career and increase their salary. The second segment is Research Focused Undergrads who love the academic environment and want to pursue a career in research. The third segment is the Traditional Uncertain Student who is not really sure of what they want to do professionally after graduating.
The Uncertain group often waits until the last minute, or after graduating to sort through the process of going to grad school. Because the Uncertain group may change their plans and pursue a graduate degree in a different discipline than their undergraduate major, it’s fairly common that this group may need to pick up some prerequisite courses before applying to graduate school. While all three segments may discuss their graduate school plans with their parents, Janet hypothesizes that the Uncertain group is likely the most actively seeking parental input.
We saw examples of these graduate school student applicant segments (and their parents) in recent conversations with parents and young adults.
Britni, who is currently enrolled at the University of Chicago’s Booth School as a first year MBA, represents the first segment of self-directed Working Professionals. She says,
“The decision to pursue an MBA was completely my decision, though I did want my parents to support it. Since my parents were not familiar with the schools I was applying to, their main role was in supporting me. My older sister helped me the most with my essays and applications, and my mother also helped with proof-reading. I think the benefit of working with family is that they help you reflect your strengths, weaknesses and goals from a different perspective than work colleagues. In the end, though, I leaned on the people who I thought could help most with decision-making and content creation.”
In contrast, Beverly, parent of Penelope, was much more involved with her daughter’s decision-making process. As she describes it, Penelope needed time to explore different career choices after graduating, and actively sought and welcomed her parents’ contribution to her graduate school decision process. Penelope is now applying to masters programs in occupational therapy after completing several internships.
As Beverly observes,
“Without the physical distance of her being away at school, it was easier for meaty conversation. [There were] a lot of conversations on our part when she came home after graduation. The whole thing here is if your kid isn’t clear about what they want to do, in order to help them out, you need to learn about the fields they are interested in, and also help them with networking for internships.”
Beverly’s comments align with Janet’s observations about parents attending the Big 10 Graduate School Expo.
Janet also mentions that the Research/Academically focused graduate applicant is the largest population that her office works with, as they typically begin their process no later than the junior year of undergraduate studies. This sort of student will form a relationship with a major professor in their discipline.
While the main focus of learning about graduate school is with the young adult candidate, their parent will likely appreciate some basic information about the graduate school and career choices (beyond their child’s strengths and weaknesses) as they wade into these conversations with their child. There seems to be a gap in the market, as little seems available online. About.com does provide a link to the financial benefit of a masters’ degree vs. undergraduate degree, e.g., the typical increase in business salary for a master’s degree is around $20,000 annually.
This financial information comes from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce Study “What’s It Worth” report. With over ten major graduate fields of study, it’s unlikely that the parent can be informed in all the fields their student may consider.
There is little information for the parent on how to approach these conversations, according to your child’s needs, representing an opportunity for brands. While the most obvious brands are the educational institutions themselves, given the lifelong impact of the education choices, this is a real opportunity for other brands. And, parents can be easier to reach than young adults, given they live at the same address longer, belong to community groups longer and even likely have greater stability of email addresses.
This winter break, one million graduate school conversations will be happening- is your brand part of the dialog?