You’re a Thunderbird alum who is waiting to catch your flight at Heathrow Airport. You have some time to spare, so you bring up the Thunderbird app on your iPhone and do a quick GPS scan to see if there are any fellow T-birds in the airport. You see there is someone, so you click on a dot and view that alum’s profile, which includes his cell number. Before you know it, you and the other T-bird are bonding over coffee as you wait for your planes.
The (Thunderbird Full-Time MBA Profile) is one of the dozens of MBA programs and business schools that now use mobile apps as another way to connect prospective and current students, as well as alumni and faculty members. All of the B-school apps are free, and most are available for both the iPhone and Android platforms. The apps bring together news, social media networks, calendars, and other information usually found on the schools’ websites, but with the added perk of having everything at your fingertips.
Some of the more feature-rich B-school apps currently on the market allow users to browse course listings, pull up details of alumni reunions, watch video clips of recent lectures, read research by B-school professors, scan a news feed about the goings-on at school, and even donate money to their alma mater.
For business schools, though, apps are a way to reach an audience that might otherwise be difficult to snare—prospective applicants, for example. The University of California at Berkeley’s (Haas Full-Time MBA Profile) has an app that is primarily run out of its admissions office. It allows applicants to view an interactive campus map, sign up for class visits, and check the status of their applications, among other things. Rich Kurovsky, the executive director of marketing and communications for Haas, says he thinks apps are the future of student recruitment for MBA programs. The app, he says, provides interested parties with an interactive platform where they can pull up the information they need no matter where they are.
"What is clear is that everybody has some kind of phone on them these days," he says, "and that’s why we need to be there."
Members-Only GPS Feature
The Thunderbird app, which is free at Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store, contains features anyone can use, but the GPS feature is only available to members of the Thunderbird community. Carol Sunnucks, Thunderbird’s senior director of corporate communications, says the app takes advantage of the T-bird culture, which includes a close-knit alumni network. "We call it the Thunderbird mystique," she says. "It’s this unique brotherhood."
The GPS feature is secure, she says, because users can opt to have their location displayed or not displayed, and can even choose whom their location is displayed to, including students, alumni, and faculty.
"You can’t look up an individual’s name and then map them," Sunnucks says. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with the world map. "I zoomed in on one [dot] that was in the middle of the ocean and it wasn’t an island and I was like, ‘That person’s on a cruise,’ " she says.
Refer a T-bird is another app feature that she says alumni have been taking advantage of. If they meet someone in their travels and think he or she should apply to Thunderbird, they can send a recommendation right from their phones. The app is also another platform for donations, says Sunnucks, allowing alumni to donate money whenever the spirit moves them.
A quick search of "MBA" in the iTunes Store yields about 30 related apps, several of which are to organize reunions. At the University of Pennsylvania’s (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), one was used for the 2011 reunion in May and, according to its page in the iTunes Store, users could use it to review the weekend’s schedule and a list of attendees.
The University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business has been using its app for over a year. The app lets students browse course listings, find out when and where the next guest speaker will be, and obtain basic information—the weather in Rochester, for example—that they look for on a daily basis.
Rosanne Simiele, the director of marketing at ITX Corp., the website design company that created the Simon app, says B-schools looking to jump on the app bandwagon need to keep their audiences in mind so they can tailor the content accordingly.
"A business school audience is much different than an art school audience," she says.
Once the app is made, one challenge is keeping users engaged so they keep using it.
"People who have downloaded apps, those are the first thing they check in the morning," Simiele says. "If people download your app, you need to give them a reason to keep coming back to it."