How Could the US Election and Brexit Affect International B-School Candidate Behavior?

Survey data provides early insight into how the current political climate may impact international application volumes.

Mar 16, 2017

Prospective Students


Graduate management education is a highly globalized market. Data from the Prospective Students Survey show that the majority of graduate business candidates around the world plan to apply to programs outside of their country of citizenship—a trend that has been on the rise for several years. Between 2009 and 2016, the share of business school candidates planning to apply internationally grew from 44 percent to 59 percent.

Business schools located in the United States and the United Kingdom have been among the primary beneficiaries of this growing internationalization—the majority of GMAT score reports they receive come from non-citizens. For US graduate business programs, most of the GMAT score reports they received in testing year 2016 came from non-US citizens (52%). For UK schools, non-UK citizens sent the vast majority of the testing year 2016 score reports they received (96%).

For international candidates, a large part of the draw to US and UK schools historically has been not just the strength of their educational reputations, but also the prospect of an international career. Data from the Prospective Students Survey indicate that about half of candidates seeking international study from China and India—the largest exporters of international candidates—say improving their chances of an international career and developing an international network are among their top motivations to study abroad.

The current political climate enveloping the United States and Europe—which is emphasizing protectionist immigration and economic policies—may change how international candidates perceive the likelihood of fulfilling their international employment objectives.

Following the US election last November, GMAC Research added a question to the monthly registrants’ survey to ask non-US citizens: “How does the outcome of the United States presidential election influence your decision to pursue a graduate business degree in the US?” Of the 760 individuals who responded, 37 percent indicated that the result of the US election has made them less likely to study in the US. Prospects with higher (self-reported) GMAT scores tend to be more negatively affected: About half (51%) with scores 700 or higher indicated that the vote has made them less likely to study in the US versus 35 percent of those scoring 600 to 690 and 27 percent for those scoring 500 to 590.

In December 2016, GMAC Research conducted a similar poll related to last year’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. GMAC surveyed 1,291 non-UK GMAT test takers who sent at least one GMAT score report to a program located in the United Kingdom in 2016. In total, 45 percent of respondents indicated that the Brexit vote has made them less likely to study in the UK. A country-level analysis shows that Indian candidates may be most negatively influenced by the Brexit vote, with 58 percent indicating it has made them less likely to study in the UK. This finding jibes with the insights of the GMAC Global GME Candidate Segmentation Study, which showed that India has the largest segment of business school candidates characterized as “Global Strivers” whose top motivations to pursue a graduate management education (compared with the global average) are to gain international exposure and gain access to employment opportunities in other countries.  

Of course, actual application behaviors may play out differently than the survey results indicate. GMAC Research will continue to track the issues via our annual Application Trends and Prospective Students surveys, as well as with additional data pulses throughout 2017. Stay tuned to Research Insights for the latest data and analysis.