When one applies to business school they typically worry about whether they have enough work experience under their belt, or whether they can compete with Ivy League graduates and 4.0 GPAs. But statistics show that since the financial crisis MBA programs are no longer looking for cookie cutter students. “Diversity” is the name of the game.
An article in the Financial Times (“Variety is the Spice of Life”) looks at how recruiters are now focusing on finding all different kinds of students to enroll in their MBA programs. Schools like Harvard, Wharton and Stanford are enrolling fewer investment bankers and more women, entrepreneurs, military personnel, environmentalists and not-for-profit managers in future classes. In fact, only 12%-14% of the admitted students at Harvard and Wharton in 2011 had investment banking backgrounds.
Even the average age of incoming MBA students is changing! The typical incoming Harvard Business School student is now 27, up from 26 a year ago.
Wharton is also working to diversify its student body. Ankur Kumar, deputy director of admissions at Wharton, explains, “This has been a focal point for the past few years. We wanted to dispel some of the stereotypes and misconceptions [about MBA programs].” Wharton has gone so far as to reach out to high school students and teach them about the importance of a business education.
Stanford has even developed its own approach to incorporating diversity into its program. The school has ensured that one in six accepted MBA students is studying for another degree alongside their MBA.
Although American schools still need to incorporate more international students into their student body (Wharton is only 36% international and Harvard is only 34%), the MBA programs have made enormous strides towards accepting more women, applicants in a wider age range, and out-of-the-professional-box MBA candidates. This openness to diversity, if not commitment to wider definition of diversity, allows future applicants to think more creatively about how to market themselves to business schools. Getting into MBA programs no longer requires fitting into the investment banking mold, but is more about breaking the mold altogether.
I have seen several articles about the increasing diversity of accepted MBA applicants and we have seen less emphasis on the classic professions with our clients as well. I recently spoke, however, to one admissions director who told me that this openness is driven as much by a change in the applicant pool as by the increased openness touted in this article.
Since the financial crisis and the subsequent layoffs of a few years ago, there are fewer investment bankers, and there are fewer investment bankers applying to MBA programs. There were also fewer college grads hired into investment banking in 2008 and 2009. But over the next few years members of those college classes will apply in increasing numbers. It will be very interesting to see if the trend discussed in this article represents a real increased commitment to professional diversity in MBA admissions, or simply a response to necessity combined with spin.
If the latter, investment bankers will once again have the inside track, and we’ll read that an MBA is a typical stop on the investment banking career track; if the former, professional diversity will continue to reign.
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