Business School Applications Surge Proves Not a Fad, Sustaining 2020 Growth

Survey finds international students rebound as women and U.S. underrepresented groups flock to full-time MBA programs

RESTON, Va. (November 17, 2021) – The Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC™), a global association of leading graduate business schools, today released its anticipated annual 2021 Application Trends Survey. The survey of nearly a thousand MBA and business master’s programs found that in 2021, the volume of applications for graduate business school programs grew 0.4 percent from the year before, sustaining the elevated demand since the onset of a global pandemic in 2020 when business schools worldwide saw unusually high volume of applications due to the economic uncertainty.

“Candidates looked for alternative career options during the COVID induced recession and business schools introduced more flexible admissions policies, resulting in soaring application volumes last year,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “The question was whether this was a fleeting event caused by the pandemic or the start of a new uptick in applications. In this context, the 2021 application cycle indicates that the surging demand for graduate business education is not a passing fad but has staying power beyond 2020.”

Key Findings

International candidates rebound in top-ranked business schools

After years of unwelcoming immigration policies in parts of the world and months of global travel restrictions due to COVID-19, pent-up demand from international students for graduate business schools was evident in this year’s data. Weighted absolute year-on-year change in application volumes from international candidates ― the applicants whose citizenship differs from that of the country where the program is located ― shows an increase of 4.1 percent compared to a decline of 3.8 percent from domestic candidates, the applicants who are citizens of the country where a program is located. More programs in Europe, the U.S., and the U.K reported decline in applications from domestic candidates when compared across regions.

This difference between international and domestic application volume is especially apparent for full-time MBA programs among leading business schools. The share of full-time two-year MBA programs showing growth in applications from international candidates has doubled from 28 percent in 2019 to 57 percent in 2021. Furthermore, twice as many U.S. programs ranked in the top 50 according to the US News & World Report saw an increase in applications from international candidates (73%) as domestic candidates (36%).

“Business school learning is experiential and relies heavily on interactions, discussions and cohort and alumni networks.  This is impossible without a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds,” said Katy Montgomery, Associate Dean of Degree Programmes at INSEAD and a GMAC board member.  “As student mobility gradually returns, the diversity it brings to a classroom will only benefit and enrich campus life.”

Women, U.S. underrepresented minorities return to in-person, full time MBA programs

Full-time MBA programs continued gaining traction in 2021. Half of full-time one-year (52%) and two-year (56%) MBA programs report an increase in applications in 2021, above all programs averaged at 41 percent. On the contrary, professional MBA programs such as part-time MBA, executive MBA, and online MBA programs ― those geared toward the needs of working professionals ― saw their share in those reporting application growth at the lowest level since 2017.

This year’s application data also indicates that globally, women candidates emerging from the shadow of the pandemic refocused on their career ambitions, with three in five (60%) full-time two-year MBA programs reporting an increase in applications from female candidates compared to two in five (43%) programs reporting growth from male candidates. In comparison, a much smaller share of online MBA programs (42%) reported growth in applications from female candidates, indicating women’s preference to return to in-person, full time learning.

In the U.S., women and underrepresented minorities (URM) reported similar desire to study on campus. More full-time two-year MBA programs reported growth in URM applications in 2021 (56%) compared to pre-pandemic 2019 (37%) or the online program (30%). Even more notably, female URM candidates demonstrated an impressive 22 percent increase between 2019 (38%) to 2021 (60%) in their share of applications for full-time two-year MBA programs.

About the Report

The annual GMAC Application Trends Survey focuses on global demand for graduate management education and analyzes differences by programs and regions for the 2020-2021 admissions season (incoming class of 2021). This survey data was collected between July 8 and August 23, 2021, and garnered responses from 967 programs at 269 business schools worldwide. This is the 23rd year the survey has been conducted, contributing to the greater understanding of the value of graduate business degrees and global and regional trends. More details of the full report, and other research series produced by GMAC, are available on

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