a student studying - mba studentIf you want something badly enough, you'll pay for it, right? Apparently business schools across the nation have gotten the memo and are willing to give their alumni a little reward for referring qualified candidates to their executive master's of business administration programs.

Several are now willing to give incentives, such as $100 gift certificates or books, for sending applicants their way. While in the past, alumni might have altruistically referred students, many MBA programs are glad to reward referring alumni with something more tangible.

"What we're doing is giving them a more meaningful gift," said Lara Zelman, a marketing manager for Boston University, in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). That school's rewards to referring alumni have included $100 American Express gift cards.Now its executive MBA program promises them a certificate for a dinner at one of 100 restaurants in Massachusetts. Also at the high end is the University of Michigan, Flint, where those referring an MBA student (who completes a full semester) will receive a $100 gift certificate.

Other programs are more modest, though: Canada's McGill University puts its alumni in a drawing for a gift certificate and the professional MBA program at Saint Joseph's University rewards them with a school sweatshirt.

There's a reason for the business schools to look to their well-connected alumni for students, especially those looking to enter an executive MBA program. At the University of California, Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management, alumni referrals make up about 70% of students in its executive program, says the WSJ. According to the Executive MBA Council, a 2009 study found that 31 of students said they had applied to their executive program because of an alumnus in their lives.

Executive MBA programs differ from traditional MBA programs in that they're designed so that students share most of their classes with the same group. Many students see this as a great opportunity for expanding business contacts and networking. The parameter of the programs also are much more defined; they include part-time university classes so that workng professionals can attend, and often may require five years of job experience. Classes are typically taught in a seminar style in which students drive the discussion based on their experiences in the business world.

Executive MBA applicants also have a higher rate of acceptance--often more than a 60% chance even at a top-tier school, mainly because applicant numbers are much lower than traditional, full-time programs. Some of the top full-time programs at prominent business schools have acceptance rates of only about 15%, the WSJ reported. Because of the increased competition for students, many of the universities have turned to more lucrative incentives.

But it's not only executive programs that face competition. The economy has hit almost all MBA programs, especially those without the international cachet of a Harvard University. Also, international students, who typically bring in higher tuition, haven't been enrolling as much and competition is becoming tougher, with formidable Asian business schools gaining momentum. More than ever, business schools have focused on its alumni to help with recruitment.

Although this seems to be limited to business schools and executive programs, the incentives could conceivably grow to include all majors, and can even benefit students. Right now, Regent University offers a $500 grant to an accepted student who was referred by an alumnus, and others like Stetson University, will waive application fees for students referred by its alumni.

So for college graduates, you may want to find out what incentives your alma mater might offer if you refer an applicant their way. And for those of you heading to college soon, you may want to start finding college alumni who can refer you to their college, enabling you to get a small grant, scholarship or at least waive a few application fees.

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