Applications for MBA programs remain stable after the boom year of 2020

THROUGH Marie Löwengard29 November 2021, 14:38

A class in progress at Gleason Hall at Simon Business School, University of Rochester, in September 2021.

Libby March — Bloomberg / Getty Images

The volume of applications for B-schools programs in 2021 was roughly equal to that of 2020, where a three-year downward trend had reversed, according to an annual survey of the development of applications from nearly 1 000 business schools led by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). While no changes appear to be newsworthy news, it does demonstrate a sustained reversal that GMAC officials believe will be lasting until 2022.

Global demand for a graduate degree in business increased by 0.4% from 2020, thanks to schools reporting growth in the number of international student applications; applicants applying for two-year full-time MBA programs; and among under-represented minorities. These are some of the conclusions of the full report, which offers a wealth of data to analyze.

After a “good year” in 2020, the number of applications for 2021 shows that a “very positive reversal” has occurred compared to previous years, largely fueled by international candidates, notes Rahul Choudaha, director of analyzes of the industry and communications research at GMAC.

India and China drive international demands

The higher number of international applicants comes at the expense of domestic applicants, Choudaha says. And this trend is most apparent in the top-ranked full-time MBA programs. Application volumes from international applicants increased by 4.1%, while there was a decrease of 3.8% among domestic applicants.

This trend could be sustained throughout the next admission cycle, Choudaha notes, adding that applications from India were (and continue to be) a primary source of the international push. And now, “the Chinese market is on the move,” he said, which could support favorable application volumes in 2022. “China has yet to reach its full potential,” Choudaha said, while warning, “there is still some uncertainty as to how this will play out.”

As to why the volume of applications has increased, one of the reasons directly attributable to the pandemic is that remote or hybrid working modalities have given young professionals the motivation, the means and the opportunity to consider and develop. explore their future career paths, says David White, Founding Partner and Admissions. consultant at Menlo Coaching. And they can even do it during business time.

“We have noticed that our clients spend more time researching MBA programs and writing more versions of application materials than in previous years,” White reports. It follows, he adds, that more potential applicants are also taking the time to consider the initial decision to apply in the first place.

While waiting for the return to normal

Another potential driver for applications in the future could be the cohort of applicants who declined to apply because they are waiting to see if their target MBA programs return to a full classroom classroom, White adds. The ability to meet classmates and professors face-to-face could lead to a further increase once MBA programs fully reopen, he says.

Conversely, some people considering a business school might come to adopt a different learning structure. White suggests that at some point “the candidates [may] Give up and accept that MBA programs are a continuous hybrid, and they might as well apply immediately.

The wait-and-see attitude among potential candidates is real, confirms Shaifali Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Ivy Group, an MBA admissions firm. She also points out that the increase in applications from women and underrepresented minorities reflects the motivation of B schools to embrace and actively encourage a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) mission.

The emphasis of DCI is starting to make a difference

Gender parity in business schools has improved in recent months. In the fall of 2021, Wharton announced that it had enrolled the first female-majority class among M7 schools, or Magnificent 7. Harvard Business School’s class of 2023 is 47% female, while Stanford Graduate School of Business has 44%, although down from 47% the previous year. However, gender equality is a more difficult goal to achieve when the full range of program options offered (including online, part-time and executive) are taken into account, beyond traditional MBA programs. two years full-time.

Aggarwal offers three examples of top ranked MBA programs that clearly emphasize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in their application materials. The demand for Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley asks applicants the mandatory short-answer question: “Can you please describe any experience or exposure you have in the area of ​​diversity, equity and inclusion, whether through community, personal or workplace organizations? “

in the same way Kellogg School of Management approach DEI on its candidate recommendation form via the following question: “Kellogg has a diverse student body and values ​​students who are inclusive and encourage others with different perspectives and backgrounds. Please tell us about one time you saw the candidate live these values.

Finally, at MIT Sloan, candidates invited for an interview are invited to articulate a specific example of the candidate’s commitment to the DCI. “DCI is a popular topic among business schools this year,” the website observed.

Colombia Business School and the University of Washington Foster School of Business have also introduced DCI essay options in their applications for the 2021-2022 cycle, according to

The role of the economy, the pandemic and the president

That schools see applications from a more diverse cohort of applicants and international students really should come as no surprise. “The findings of the study are not revolutionary,” says Esther Magna, director of Stacy Blackman Consulting. “These are essentially modest changes that reflect the increased demand for 2020 nominations created by the pandemic which most believe was the result of job uncertainty and people looking to take a break.”

The economy has also been a major driver of demand for business schools, and just like 2008, applications have increased among people who have lost their jobs or considered ways to overcome instability, Magna notes. In addition, the 2020 election results have positive benefits and “a president and administration supporting a global talent pool coming to the United States,” Magna said.

The Great Resignation at stake

The so-called big resignation also deserves some credit, as many workers have quit their jobs in hopes of reimagining their jobs and career goals. This phenomenon affects the mix of applicants from careers outside the traditional fields that have populated business schools, such as finance and engineering.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of customers concerned about having an impact on their lives beyond the profit of the company,” Magna reports. “Today, a third of our clients work in impact-related fields such as healthcare, education, transportation, and are considering the MBA to make their mark in these worlds.”

Additionally, people who are part of the Great Resignation are encouraged to apply for graduate business programs, as they know that the best companies offer higher dollars to MBA graduates, which might make some people more attractive to leave their current position, says Magna. Graduates of many top MBA programs start earning over $ 150,000, although some New York University Stern School of Business alumni earn over $ 225,000 and incoming Stanford graduates. in the area of ​​private equity took home $ 400,000.

And even if the pace of MBA applications slows down for some reason, it probably won’t affect the best of the best programs, like the so-called M7, which offers better guarantees of employability, job security and a high salary.

“M7 programs will always see demand for their two-year full-time programs,” Magna said. “This is because the candidates realize that they are investing in themselves in a world famous brand. “

See how the schools you are considering have performed Fortune’s rankings of the best part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.

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