GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) has released its 2016 Application Trends Survey. This is the 17th survey since 2000 and includes analysis of information submitted by 872 graduate management programs. These programs represent 335 business schools and faculties in 49 countries worldwide, including 42 U.S. States and Washington, D.C.
Survey findings are related to applications for grad business and management programs for the 2016-2017 academic year. Included in the survey are 509 MBA programs, 334 business masters (non-MBA) programs including one non-business masters, 19 doctoral programs, and three joint-degree programs.
The report included the following topics: application volume trends for 2016 compared with 2015 for the 10 most common graduate b-school programs with the highest survey response rates; applicant pool composition by country and gender; and targeted candidate outreach, tuition assistance, and employer funding.
Highlights from GMAC’s 2016 Application Trends Survey:
• Worldwide, almost half of all graduate business programs (49%), received more apps in 2016 compared to 2015. 43% received less. 8% of the programs reported no change in quantity for the same period.
• For the first time since 2012, less than half (43%) of the full-time two-year MBA programs had year-on-year application volume growth.
• The bulk of full-time one-year programs (57%) reported an increase in the number of applicants this year. This continues the trend begun last year when 51% of programs reported an increase.
• Looking at all program types, 65% of European programs had a larger number of applications this year. This is in comparison with application volume growth in 46% of U.S. programs and 41% of programs in East and Southeast Asia.
• The good news is that more than half (52%) of all graduate business programs are planning to increase their admission rates for the incoming class of 2016. This seems to be in response to the increase in application volume. 70% of the programs with increased numbers of applications intend to increase their class size by a median of eight students. However, 53% of programs that report fewer numbers of applications will reduce their class size by an average of seven students.
• 70% of full-time two-year MBA programs recruit international students. China, India, and the U.S. are the top three countries in which these programs do international recruiting.
• Merit scholarships are the most common type of tuition assistance. 80% of full-time MBA programs offer this kind of aid.
• Two-thirds (69%) of programs report that the percentage of their 2016 incoming students receiving employer tuition reimbursement will be similar to 2015. More good news: 99% of all professional MBA programs report that some segment of their incoming students will receive full or partial tuition funding from their current employer.
Following are some additional highlights from Poets and Quants:
• The 49% of business schools reporting an increase in applications is down from a high of 61% of schools in 2014. 48% of schools have experienced a decline in the number of applications in 2016.
• Despite the overall decline in applications, there are differences by program size. The majority of large schools (57%), which enroll more than 120 students, report increased volume this year. In contrast, only 33% of small and 40% of midsize programs reported higher application volumes.
• Large programs are more likely to see growth from all application demographics – domestic, international, male, and female – than smaller programs. The most significant of these trends is among female applicants. 75% of large full-time two-year MBA programs report a higher number of female applicants, versus 45% of mid-sized and 42% of small programs.
• Non-MBA and new MBA program formats are drawing candidates away from traditional MBA programs. 9% of online programs are new this year, according to the survey.
• This year, 52% of students applying to full-time two-year MBA programs are international candidates.
• European MBA programs are increasing in popularity.
• The Masters in Data Analytics degree program has seen an increase in application volume this year. There are also nine new programs that will be welcoming their first class this year. More than half of the European (65%) and U.S.-based Master of Finance programs report application volume increases for the second year in a row. (For more on MIT’s MBAn, please see Contemplating a Career in Data Science/Business Analytics? )
A few trends seem to be at work with these results:
1. Globalization is increasing the value of international experience and education so more people are looking for international exposure, which just happens to frequently be available a one-year program in Europe.
2. The ever-increasing cost of the MBA is pushing people to less-expensive options like online programs and one-year MBA programs as well as specialized graduate management programs.
3. The growth of the Masters in Management and other early career options may also be slightly reducing the applicant pool for MBAs. The early-career, one-year programs have a lower opportunity cost than the MBA because students are at the beginning of their careers when their salaries are relatively low and lower tuition.
While this report presents good news to MBA applicants concerned about intense competition, if you are applying for an MBA at a well-ranked program and thinking it will be a cinch to get in this year, don’t break out the champagne quite yet. The overwhelming majority of highly ranked programs are in the larger program category. That was the group where 57% report an increase in application volume. Indeed, MIT Sloan announced at the AIGAC conference in June that its application volume increased by a whopping 35% last year.
I don’t have all the application volume data from the top 25 schools, but if application volume at these programs declined, it didn’t decline by much.
For applicants applying to top programs, you still have intense competition. And you still need to show that you both fit in at your target programs and stand out.
For all MBA programs, large and small, perhaps these results also contain a message: They need to stop raising tuition at rates that exceed the cost of living and the rate of increases in their graduates’ salaries.
One can hope.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
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