Emerson students seen as offbeat and ambitious, research says

by Bret Hauff / Beacon Staff and Laura King / Beacon Staff • May 12, 2015

Research by consulting firms hired by the college found that Emerson students are “quirky and driven” and that some alumni are unimpressed by the popular “Emerson Mafia” moniker.

These and other perceptions will shape questions for a survey about the college’s image and brand that will be available in September, according to Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing. This is part of a multiyear rebranding initiative that Emerson launched in January.

The results, conducted through online and in-person focus groups with prospective students, alumni, and current students at both U.S. campuses, were announced at a meeting in April for college administrators.

The research found Emerson students are seen as, and see themselves as, offbeat and very aware of their dreams and career goals, said Andrea Kruszka, the project strategist at SimpsonScarborough, one of the firms Emerson has hired for the rebranding initiative. Kruszka said that the research found Emerson has a warm and intimate campus that is LGBTQ-friendly.

Tiedemann said that before Emerson, he had worked at Northeastern University and Harvard University, and there is something different about this college.

“When I first stepped foot on campus, there’s a different energy here,” Tiedemann said in an interview with the Beacon. “I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I do think that our students are more artistic.”

As part of this research, the consulting firms interviewed six prospective undergraduate students, who said they are looking for affordable, career-oriented schools in safe urban areas, according to Kruszka. The students said they were most interested in liberal arts, performing arts, and journalism.

Graduate prospective students are also looking for affordability and fellowship opportunities, Kruszka said. The 12 interviewed wanted locations that would lead to local jobs and internships that were accessible from their homes. They said they were most interested in the speech pathology and creative writing programs.

Compared to the college’s competitors––which Kruszka said included New York University, Boston University, University of Southern California, and Chapman University—the focus groups found Emerson’s strengths were its focus on hands-on learning and major-specific programs.

Kruszka said students were very satisfied with the job opportunities, urban feel, and opportunities for exploration that the college offered. They also reported they were impressed by the Kasteel Well program’s international, multicultural tone in coursework and how it encourages students to travel.

However, prospective graduate students reported they were concerned about competition in Boston’s job and internship market, since there are so many other colleges in the area, said Kruszka.

Some respondents also saw a weakness in the college’s marketing as a school for only arts and communication, with little flexibility between majors. Tiedemann said this is intentional.

“Our current tagline is ‘bringing innovation to communication and the arts,’” Tiedemann said. “If you want to be an engineer or a scientist or a doctor, you’re not going to come to Emerson.”

Respondents said that the college’s limited financial aid causes the college population to be dominated by upper-class white students, said Kruszka. Currently, about 75 percent of students report their race as white.

“We certainly want to make sure that we have students from diverse economic and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Tiedemann said.

In general, alumni respondents said they wanted to be more involved with the college, and that they would enjoy more career specific networking events and webinars, according to Kruszka.

Almost all alumni said they are proud of graduating from Emerson, according to Kruszka and Tiedemann.

“I think the concept that once you’re from Emerson, you’re family is a good concept,” Tiedemann said. “When I talk to alumni, they’re very proud to be a part of Emerson. There is a lot of pride and association with Emerson College.”