GMAC’s annual survey reveals new shifts in the underlying expectations of applicants
RESTON, Va. (October 25, 2023) – Across the globe, total applications to graduate business school programs in 2023 dipped by approximately five percent. However, more programs than last year reported growth in their applications – indicating that the drop in applications was not felt evenly, according to an annual survey released today by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). GMAC, a global association representing leading business schools, published findings from the 2023 survey results to provide data and insights to better understand current trends in applications to graduate management education (GME) programs.
Specifically, the decline in applications have centered around those to more selective programs, driving a dip in total global applications while their somewhat selective counterparts reported growth in their applications. Many candidates are still interested in more traditional, competitive full-time programs, but online, hybrid, or evening options were much more likely to report application growth. Interestingly, applicants seeking out top-ranked programs may not necessarily be looking for the same flexibility as the others, but many candidates are more willing to sacrifice prestige for flexibility.
“As post-pandemic attitudes toward work continue shifting and preferences for educational offerings continue evolving, the business school community as a whole is quickly adapting,” said Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC. “From degreed programs to new certificates, concentrations, executive education, and micro-credentials, there is a wealth of options appealing to a wide spectrum of candidates in different stages of career and life. It serves as a testament to how business schools rise to the challenge to meet the needs of today’s business school aspirants who will undoubtedly benefit from graduate business education.”
Other Key Findings
U.S. and regional trends reflect shifts in international and domestic applications.
While flexibility in delivery methods played an important role in driving the global application trends, in the United States, the international and domestic compositions of program volume turned out to be the key drivers behind the growth seen among their GME programs. After several challenging years with the domestic pipeline – especially after applications leveled off following the pandemic – more U.S. programs reported growth in domestic applications than declines in 2023. In fact, besides the increase seen in 2020 related to the pandemic, the number of U.S. programs reporting application growth reached a decade-long high in domestic applications.
While more than half of the programs in the U.S. experienced growth despite a small dip in overall applications, their counterparts in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands were not as fortunate. Most European programs have faced declining applications over the past three years, with a significant drop (13 percent) in total international applications in 2023. Similarly, programs in Asia and the Pacific Islands have experienced two years of relative application declines, but with a pronounced drop (8 percent) in total domestic applications in 2023.
Applications among women continue to stagnate across degree types and regions.
Over the past five years, the share of female applicants in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Canada and Latin America has hovered around two-fifths. Even though GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey indicates that women tend to be more interested in flexible, online, and hybrid programs, the share of women applying to online, hybrid, weekend, and evening programs is still roughly two-fifths. One silver lining lies in the share of women applicants in the executive MBA. While it is comparatively smallest at 32 percent, most of these programs saw growth in their applications from female candidates in 2023.
“It is encouraging to see more women in executive positions pursue advanced business education that could help strengthen them as leaders in the workplace,” said Ana María Zermeño Padilla, director of academic experience and operations of EGADE Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey and a GMAC Board member. “There is still much work to be done to appeal to women, especially those earlier in their careers, to take advantage of what graduate business degrees, particularly those with online and flexible modules, could offer.”
Applications from underrepresented U.S. populations hit post-pandemic peak and top pre-pandemic levels.
Since 2014, most U.S. GME programs reported either stability or growth in their applications from underrepresented U.S. populations. Similar to broader U.S. and global trends, applications from these candidates surged alongside the pandemic until 2021 and 2022 when a majority of programs reported declines in applications as the pandemic-related increases leveled off. This year’s survey result, however, shows that 47 percent of U.S. programs reported growth in applications from underrepresented U.S. populations, rebounding by a whopping 18 percentage point from a 10-year low in 2022 and even higher than the pre-pandemic years.
“In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admissions, business schools are reexamining their recruitment efforts and admissions strategies to continue enrolling a student body that reflects the diversity of the country and their pool of applicants,” said Sabrina White, vice president of school and industry engagement at GMAC. “As the graduate business school community prepares for impending shifts in how U.S. programs evaluate the experiences of applicants from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds, we hope sharing the data reported by schools over the past decade can help serve as a foundation for how current efforts have – or have not – been effective.”
About the Survey
GMAC’s Applications Trends Survey is the largest and most widely cited survey of its kind, serving the graduate management education community for the past quarter of a century. The 2023 survey collected data on applications received by GME programs for the 2023-2024 academic year. Between June and August, 893 programs at 247 business schools worldwide provided responses. Participating programs are located in 32 countries, including 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and reflect the growing diversity of global GME offerings. The total sample includes 413 MBA programs, 456 business master’s programs, five postgraduate programs (PGP), and 19 doctoral programs. More details about this year’s participating programs can be found in the participant profile section of the report.
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is a mission-driven association of leading graduate business schools worldwide. GMAC provides world-class research, industry conferences, recruiting tools, and assessments for the graduate management education industry as well as resources, events, and services that help guide candidates through their higher education journey. Owned and administered by GMAC, the Graduate Management Admission Test™ (GMAT™) exam is the most widely used graduate business school assessment.
More than 12 million prospective students a year trust GMAC’s websites, including mba.com, to learn about MBA and business master’s programs, connect with schools around the world, prepare and register for exams and get advice on successfully applying to MBA and business master’s programs. BusinessBecause and GMAC Tours are subsidiaries of GMAC, a global organization with offices in China, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
To learn more about our work, please visit www.gmac.com
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