Business schools see dramatic rise in applications

Despite the pitfalls from the pandemic, B-schools in the U.S. showed surprising resilience, according to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council.
By: | November 10, 2020
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According to a new report from the Graduate Management Admission Council, applications for MBA and business master’s programs from participating institutions rose by two-thirds from 2018-19, even when factoring in the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GMAC noted several reasons for the increase in applications – such as flexible strategies from B-schools to extend deadlines and to slightly boost acceptance rates during the tumultuous past six months of 2020. Martin Boehm, chairperson of the GMAC Board of Directors also said more individuals “chose to pursue an advanced business degree amid economic uncertainty.”

There was a small rise in the number of deferrals, from 2% last year to 6% this year. And the 1,085 programs from 325 schools that took part in the study also did report  higher admission rates (70%) over last year (65%).

However, the yield rate, which measures the percentage of accepted students who ultimately enroll, remained steady at around 61% in the United States. In the Asia-Pacific region, it declined 11%. At the same time, U.S. schools had a much higher tolerance for deferrals than that region.

“This year is like none other when observing and analyzing trends associated with applications to business school,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO at GMAC. “While the environment has certainly been challenging for schools and candidates since the outset of COVID-19, one constant is the countercyclical nature of demand for an advanced business degree. The opportunity cost of leaving a job to pursue an MBA or business master’s lessens as economies begin to regress, as a result we are now seeing more people thinking about b-school to grow or improve their career prospects.”

Digging deeper into the numbers, the acceptance rates in the U.S. were higher than any other region (Asia-Pacific, Canada or Europe) for both MBAs and business master’s degree programs. Within the individual MBA programs globally, part-time self-paced (53%) saw the biggest jump, followed by flexible MBA (48.6%) while executive MBAs dropped 1.7%. Full-time two-year MBAs stay relatively steady, while full-time one-years improved 11.6%.

Across the board, interest in business master’s programs increased, topped by data analytics at +34.2%. That was followed by finance (+21.2%), management (+17.8%) and business master’s (+14.3%).

Not surprisingly, domestic applications outpaced those from prospective international students, and the study noted that higher-ranked schools reported bigger increases in the amount of applications than those ranked lower.

In its report, researchers highlighted responses from admissions officers in the U.S. who said a more focused approach to recruiting helped boost applications this year, while those who reported struggles said competition from online schools was making it a challenge.

Those respondents noted several changes from this year to last year related to COVID-19, including lower travel budgets, a focus on U.S. candidates and a penchant to start the fall in an online model.