Global survey defines pandemic-induced shifts in MBA and Business Master’s degrees
RESTON, Va. (April 19, 2022) – The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a global association of leading graduate business schools, today released its GMAC Prospective Students Survey – 2022 Summary Report, which explores how candidate preferences have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was based on survey responses from more than 6,500 individuals worldwide who expressed interest in graduate business education in 2021. While cost remains a primary concern in today’s dynamic economy with brisk job market and rising inflation, candidates from around the globe continue to perceive graduate management education as a tried-and-true pathway to advance professionally and position themselves to achieve their goals, consistent with pre-pandemic levels. Globally, 4 out of 5 candidates stated that a graduate business degree allows them to stand out at work. Similarly, the full-time MBA program continues to be the most popular program option, with 1 out of 4 of all candidates preferring the two-year full-time format and another 1 in 5 preferring the one-year full time format.
“While the pandemic has altered aspects of the graduate management education landscape, the fundamental perceptions of the value of graduate management education generally and the MBA specifically continue to stay strong,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “While there continue to be evolutions in candidate’s preferred study destinations, delivery formats, career paths and perceptions of admissions testing policies, if there were ever any concerns that the pandemic and its effects would diminish business school aspirants’ perceptions of the value of a degree, the latest GMAC findings of the Prospective Students Survey should help put them to rest.”
Other Key Findings
More candidates prefer to study closer to home while the U.S. and Europe intensify their competition for international candidates
More candidates from traditionally mobile markets are opting to study closer to home than they did before the pandemic. For example, among Central and South Asian candidates, the percentage who prefer to study internationally declined from 89 to 73 percent between 2019 and 2021. Among East and Southeast Asian candidates, preference to study internationally also declined from 92 to 87 percent between 2020 and 2021, a possible indication that studying abroad was limited due to the pandemic-fueled travel restrictions.
Among international candidates – candidates whose preferred study destination differs from their country of citizenship – virtually the same proportion said in 2021 that the United States and Western Europe is their preferred destination (39%, respectively). Among international MBA candidates specifically, the U.S. is the preferred destination of half (50%), expanding its lead over second place Western Europe (28%) between 2019 and 2021. In the meantime, Western Europe remains the preferred destination of more than half of international business master’s candidates.
Belief in the value of fully online education remains low while acceptance of hybrid formats increases
Candidates see higher value in the in-person business school experience compared with online as the share of surveyed candidates who prefer fully online programs stays flat. Among global prospective students surveyed in 2021, most disagree that online degree programs offer the same value as on-campus programs (73%). Nearly 4 in 5 disagree that the networking opportunities are equivalent, and 2 in 3 disagree that the career opportunities are the same. However, these negative views softened slightly between 2020 and 2021.
At the same time, preference for hybrid models has gone up significantly across candidate types, especially those who prefer Executive, Part-time, and Flexible MBA programs (44%, from 30% in 2019), but also those who want to study full-time to earn a business master’s (20%, from 13% in 2019) or MBA (13%, from 7% in 2019). Globally, 20 percent of candidates surveyed in 2021 prefer hybrid program delivery, up from 14 percent pre-pandemic. U.S. underrepresented minority candidates (28%) also express interest in hybrid programs, up significantly from the pre-pandemic level.
Consulting continues to top prospective student interests, but tech is still on the rise
Among candidates in the United States, where “the Great Resignation” has shaken up the job market, 42 percent identify themselves as “career switchers” ─ whose goal is to either change industries or job functions by pursuing a business degree ─ significantly higher than global levels at 32 percent. As it was pre-pandemic, consulting continues to be the top industry and job function both men and women candidates aspire to. But there is growing interest in the technology industry, especially among the career switchers (50%) and non-business undergraduate majors (49%). Furthermore, between 2019 and 2021, interest in tech also increased with women (29% to 34%).
“As people perceive work differently after the pandemic, many become more open-minded to the variety of possible career paths they could pursue. It is encouraging to see that more women are pursuing a business degree as a way to build careers in the tech industry,” said Joy Jones, chief product officer and general manager of assessments at GMAC. “Graduate business education continues to be in high demand because it opens the door to a wide array of industries and job functions, including areas that are less thought about or not previously considered by traditional candidates seeking to enter business schools.”
Test optional and waiver policies led to unintended consequences
Globally, most candidates agree that admissions exams improve the fairness and transparency of business school admissions. Most also agree that exams improve schools’ reliability in evaluating applicants and demonstrate the importance they place on the quality of the students they admit. A clear trend in survey responses is that international candidates view admissions testing especially favorably. About half say a school’s use of admissions exams is an indicator of the quality of the program and is an important criterion for considering applying to that school, and twice as many international candidates agree than disagree that admissions exams are an effective way to determine which students to admit. Additionally, about 2 in 5 prospective students agree that the criteria for test waivers are complex and do not apply to a large proportion of applicants, and about 1 in 3 say waivers disproportionately benefit candidates who are less prepared for a graduate business degree program.
“The data shows that prospective applicants have mixed feelings about test waiver and optional policies because of their complexity and perceptions of reduced transparency and fairness. This trend of perception is particularly acute amongst international students” said Maite Salazar, chief marketing officer at GMAC. “The unintended consequences of test optional and waiver policies might be that they may adversely affect the perception of the commitment to student quality of programs that offer them.”
For more than a decade, the Prospective Students Survey has provided the world’s graduate business schools with critical insights into the decision-making processes of people currently considering applying to a graduate management education program through mba.com – the GMAC website for prospective graduate business students. This year, to increase the breadth and depth of prospective student voices reflected in this report, all individuals who registered for an mba.com account in the month prior were invited to the subsequent month’s survey. Additionally, for the first time, the sample of mba.com registrants was supplemented by prospective students who attended events hosted by The MBA Tour, visited the BusinessBecause website, or registered for the NMAT by GMAC exam in India – all also GMAC properties. Visit GMAC.com to read the full report.
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is a mission-driven association of leading graduate business schools worldwide. Founded in 1953, GMAC creates solutions and experiences that enable business schools and candidates to better discover, evaluate, and connect with each other.
GMAC provides world-class research, industry conferences, recruiting tools, and assessments for the graduate management education industry, as well as tools, 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 The MBA Tour 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
Sr. Manager, Media Relations