The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC)’s most recent annual Application Trends Survey shows a marked decrease in applications to U.S. business schools. It also discusses where MBA students are choosing to study.
A Drop in U.S. Applications
GMAC’s survey of 336 graduate-and doctoral-level programs showed 466,112 applications during the 2018 application round. This is down almost 7% from last year, and includes a 1.8% decrease in domestic applications, as well as a 10.5% decline in international apps. The majority of U.S. programs (53%) in the GMAC survey stated that their number of applications went down. This includes almost 70% of full-time two-year MBA programs.
Despite the drop in U.S. applications, the GMAC survey showed global stability in the number of applications worldwide. Asia-Pacific programs reported an 8.9% increase, while applications were up 7% in Canada and 3.2% in Europe.
The news within the U.S. is just the opposite. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. full-time programs – including one-year programs – stated that their application volume decreased in 2018. This is the second highest percentage of schools reporting a decline since 2004, when 76% of programs saw declines.
Why the Drop?
According to Sangeet Chowfla, President and CEO of GMAC, there are several reasons for the U.S. decline, including the low rate of unemployment, which indicates that “young professionals have an increased opportunity cost of leaving their jobs in pursuit of an advanced degree.” In addition, “a disruptive American political environment and the emergence over the past decade of tremendous educational and professional opportunities abroad also contributed to the dip. Together, these factors explain “why demand in the United States has dropped from previously record-high application volumes at some schools.”
Another factor in the decline may be access to employment after the MBA, according to Duke University’s Fuqua School’s dean and chairperson of the GMAC board of directors, Bill Boulding. “Economic indicators in the U.S. are strong, but if we are to maintain such growth and productivity we need to make it possible for people from all different regions and backgrounds to study and work in the location they desire. If that doesn’t happen, we limit not only the possibility of an individual, but also continued economic prosperity in the U.S. and growth around the world.”
Although the statistics look grim, this trend is not taking place at the top-tier schools. Smaller schools that relied heavily on international admissions are changing their recruitment strategies to go after more U.S. students. If the trend continues, they may need to find more creative ways of attracting students, which may include increasing scholarships for admitted students. Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville is offering one-on-one counseling to prospective students, and getting help from students and alumni to link up with applicants to talk about their Vanderbilt experience. Vanderbilt plans on remaining a small program, and is selective in their admissions. They look for students that have the best fit, and will thrive there.
The GMAC survey was conducted from early June to mid-July, 2018. The results are based on worldwide replies from 1.087 graduate business programs at 363 universities. Programs included in the survey are in 44 countries, including 43 states and the District of Columbia. MBA, business master’s, and PhD programs were included. Nine out of 10 programs stated that their applicants this year are equally or more academically competent that applicants last year.
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