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Employers Groom Hires for Graduate School
Companies are advertising a rather peculiar perk to lure top undergraduate talent: Showing them the door—to graduate school, that is.
As a means of attracting stellar young hires, an increasing number of firms in finance, consulting and technology are shepherding employees through the graduate-school admissions process by organizing and paying for test-preparation courses, inviting admissions consultants to help with applications, arranging mock interviews with senior staffers and even bringing school representatives to information sessions at the office.
Companies support staffers attending a number of graduate programs, but business school is by far the most common destination.
It may seem counterintuitive to encourage employees to head for the exits, but firms say that assisting with the graduate-school application process leads to long-term loyalty and, with strings attached to tuition money, improves the chances that employees will return after graduation. (Most companies reimburse employees only after they've been back for a number of months or even years.)
Such programs have been in place for a while, but have grown more popular in recent years as the recruiting process heats up.
Employees generally begin applying to business school two or three years into their tenure. The prep programs, some of which require formal applications and a manager's sign-off, are generally geared toward high-potential employees and direct those employees toward top schools.
Corporate interest in the GMAT course at Manhattan Prep picked up about six years ago and has grown steadily since, says Evyn Williams, senior manager of marketing and corporate relations at the New York-based test-prep company.
Manhattan Prep's client list—it boasts more than 40 corporate partnerships including dedicated classes and discount rates—reads like a who's who of feeders for (and recruiters from) elite graduate business schools, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., GS 3.21% Boston Consulting Group Inc., Deloitte Consulting LLP and Google Inc. GOOG -0.05%
Hoping to snag top talent, BCG began supporting GMAT test preparation in 2005 and brought courses on-site in 2008, though more recently it shifted to online courses to better accommodate traveling employees.
Jennifer Comparoni, head of Americas recruiting at BCG, says the support available for graduate-school applicants is "absolutely" part of the company's recruiting pitch when hiring undergraduates.
The firm also partners applicants with more senior employees who hold M.B.A.s to assist in crafting essays and preparing for interviews. The aid doesn't end once the employee gets an acceptance letter: about 75% of associates who spend at least two years with the firm are offered full-tuition sponsorship for up to two years of graduate school, with reimbursement upon return to the firm after graduation.
Ms. Comparoni declined to provide financial details of the admissions assistance programs, but it could easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at many companies, and more for those that cover school tuition.
Manhattan Prep charges a retail price of $1,590 for its nine-week GMAT course, and while corporate partners do get a discount, Ms. Williams says many still pay more than $1,000 per person. Class sizes generally range from 15 to 25 people, and some clients sell out sessions at multiple offices. Manhattan Prep has run about 40 dedicated corporate classes in the past year.
Washington Post Co.'s WPO -1.76% Kaplan Test Prep also has been teaming up with companies for years, but Howard Bell, vice president of graduate programs, says there's recently been "significant growth" there as well. The company declined to provide details of its corporate rates, but retail courses at a Kaplan center cost $1,599 per student, while virtual courses range from $599 to $949.
"It's a very significant investment, both financially and time-wise, but we see it as one of the most important things that we do in terms of developing our practitioners," says Julie Meehan, a principal at Deloitte who oversees undergraduate recruiting for the strategy and operations practice.
Ms. Meehan says the broad perspective that business school provides helps with consulting assignments that require creative problem-solving. An M.B.A. also is a "great equalizer," filling in knowledge gaps for staffers who may not have been undergraduate finance majors or are unfamiliar with marketing strategy.
Unlike in medicine and law, professionals in the business world can practice without attending graduate school or receiving some form of licensure. An M.B.A. may not be a legal requirement, but it's still very much a rite of passage at many companies.
"You need to get your M.B.A. to move up the ranks" and become a principal in the strategy and operations group, Ms. Meehan says.
In addition to the staffers who sign up for company-sponsored test-prep courses, which are coordinated with "a handful" of companies, Ms. Meehan estimates that as many as 100 employees each year from the strategy and operations practice attend virtual and in-person presentations, arranged by Deloitte, by admissions consultants and representatives from top schools.
Erin Kruse, a Chicago-based manager in the strategy service line at Deloitte, says the company's support for business school "was a key point" in her decision to take the job offer in 2006. Ms. Kruse, 28 years old, returned to Deloitte last fall after completing her M.B.A. at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
Ms. Kruse participated in interview preparation and resume review sessions hosted by Deloitte staffers, receiving advice on how to highlight her professional experiences in the application. She also attended an all-day symposium, sponsored by Deloitte, which included one-on-one meetings with school representatives.
Meanwhile, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina began publicizing an all-expenses-paid, on-site Kaplan-led GMAT course last fall and enrolled about 30 students each for that and for a similar GRE class. The company previously ran test-prep courses through its "Blue University" internal training outfit. Employee affinity groups also offer some support on a more ad hoc basis.