Why MBA application predictions look gloomy for U.S. schools in 2022

With an influx of job openings and cost a factor, convincing prospective students to go to business school is challenging.

If the dramatic decline in the number of GMAT tests taken by prospective students is any indication,  business school admissions offices in the U.S. will likely see fewer applications in 2022.

That is the opinion of a little more than half of those officers who responded to a new monthly survey being done by analysts at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the global firm that puts out its esteemed annual rankings of the world’s best institutions of higher education annually. Nearly one-third of those polled said applications will be slightly lower, while 22% say they will be much lower.

What’s the reason?

“The ‘great resignation’ in the U.S. created a buoyancy in job vacancies, presenting opportunities for career mobility for aspiring managers,” said Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and CEO of QS Quacquarelli Symonds. “As a result, there is less of an incentive to invest in an MBA to develop their skills and accelerate their career progression. Potential MBA candidates in North America are currently thinking ‘job-first’ and not considering taking time out of their careers to study.”

They are instead focused squarely on jobs, but they may fall behind their global counterparts in the future. While experts believe North America will see declines, around 90% said they expect admissions to be higher this year across Europe, Latin America, India and Africa. A third said they will be much higher.

More from UB: Corporate demand rises for MBA students

North America has seen big drops in the numbers of students taking GMATs since 2017 – from around 80,000 to less than 39,000 in 2021. Those directly correlate to admits at business schools. Although the opportunity to move up in careers was one factor swaying individuals to forego further studies, cost was another, despite the immense variety of offerings here and abroad. It is surprising, given the power of a traditional MBA and the many ways individuals can pursue further education.

“Prospective students have so much choice with growing numbers of business schools across the globe, the array of specialist master’s programs and the upsurge in online certificates and micro-credentials,” Quacquarelli said. “Online and on campus, there are options to suit individual aptitudes, ambitions, and budgets. For many around the world, an MBA from a globally recognized business school remains the gold standard in graduate management education.”

Imperial College Business School in London, for example, has 8% of its current student base coming from the U.S. in its online MBA program. University College London is a robust 12%. Simply put, Director of UCL Online MBA James Berry said, “Studying in Europe compared to the U.S. is less expensive.”

Still, while 5% of MBA pursuers across Europe were from the U.S. in 2020, that percentage did drop for 2021, likely the result of the pandemic. The number of online U.S. students pursuing MBAs in Europe was 5.6%. But not all of those programs, either overseas or in the United States, meet the high standards of those in person.

“Lately, there has been a proliferation of online educational opportunities, some of high quality and some of a more dubious quality,” Berry said. “What I’ve not seen from micro-credentials is a recreation of a learning environment, where students learn from faculty and each other. The depth and value of the MBA is the interactive classroom experience.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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