Top B-School App Volume Plummets

applications go down at top b-schools

Applications are down at top b-schools

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article explains that as Wall Street faces turmoil, applications go down at top b-schools with close finance industry ties, specifically Columbia Business School and NYU Stern.

Half of Columbia’s 2012 graduates entered financial services, with 18 MBAs heading to Goldman Sachs alone. This year, Columbia experienced a 19% decrease in full-time MBA applications.

According to Columbia’s vice dean, Amir Ziv, “There’s merit to the argument that if the financial industry isn’t doing well, it should hit schools that are more exposed to it than others. In the long run, if it’s not doing well, you’ll have fewer students interested in schools that are excellent in finance.”

Last year, NYU Stern sent 46% of its graduating class into the financial service industry. This year, applications are down 12%.

The hit on application volume is much lighter, the article goes on to say, at schools that rely less on Wall Street jobs. At Harvard Business School, for example, applications are down only 2%, and at Wharton, only 1%. These schools, as well as Chicago Booth which has also experienced only a slight decline in applications, report that about 40% of 2012 graduates entered the financial services industry.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported that interest in financial jobs has been down since 2008 (with a short upward jump in 2010).

A Poets & Quants article shows that despite these declines, Columbia has a silver lining to celebrate: It just received an anonymous $25 million gift. And let’s not forget the $100 million gift CBS received two years ago.

For more information on the current application volume drops, please see “Chicago Booth Apps Down 3%” and “Columbia MBA Apps Plunge 19%,” two more recent P&Q articles.

My Take + Takeaways for Applicants:

I’m not convinced that the sharp plunge for Columbia and serious drop for NYU is solely due to their ties to Wall Street. Chicago, Wharton, and Yale, for example, send and receive similar percentages of their classes to and from Wall Street and suffered much smaller drops in application volume. Lack of no-co-signer loans for international applicants certainly is likely a contributing factor at CBS. I also saw some speculation that the documentary Inside Job, which does not portray Columbia’s dean favorably, may also have hurt the school.  Dependence on Wall Street accounts for some of the drop, but I don’t believe that it accounts for all of it.

However, as both Poets and Quants and Bloomberg Businessweek point out, the drop means a higher acceptance rate at Columbia and NYU. It means that if Columbia is to maintain its high average GMAT score, it will need to be a little less choosy about grades or extra-curriculars. It may welcome (and again be a little less choosy) about non-financial types so that it can diversify. (FYI: Diversification is one of those things b-schools say is a good thing.)

At the same time, it’s too early to break out the champagne in anticipation of an easy acceptance at this Ivy League program. If Columbia admits the same number of applicants as it did in previous years, even with the drop in applications, it will still have only an acceptance rate slightly above 20%. While significantly higher than Columbia’s 15.9% acceptance rate in 2011, CBS will still reject roughly four applicants for every one that it accepts.

If you take the purpose-driven approach to admissions that I advocate, apply to Columbia, NYU, and any other program if you feel it supports your goals and that you have a reasonable chance of acceptance. Columbia has excellent programs in value investing, private equity, real estate, luxury goods marketing, retail, and a host of other fields. If those programs will help you achieve your goals, your chances of acceptance have improved and the quality of those programs has not changed. BUT, you will still need to do better than the competition. You can just expect less competition than those applicants who applied two years ago, when Columbia accepted approximately one out of six applicants.

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