From Inner Life to Outer World: How Women, Gen Z Are Invested in Business Education

Survey finds interest in tech sector stagnates for post-school career while the U.S. continues to attract global talent upon rebounding mobility

RESTON, Va. (April 10, 2023) – People thinking about going back to business schools are more interested in enriching their lives than increasing their incomes, according to a survey of prospective students of graduate management education (GME) released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a global association representing leading business schools. Seventy-nine percent of prospective students worldwide are motivated to pursue GME to better their lives and develop their potential – 15 percentage points more than the next-best motivator, increasing income.

Furthermore, women, millennials, underrepresented U.S. candidates, and first-generation prospective students are all statistically more likely to indicate post-GME career preference for the government or nonprofit sector, which tends to be more stable and socially engaged though less lucrative than the private sector. Gen Z, on the other hand, are most interested in entering the finance and accounting industry, and about 10 percentage points more likely to cite increasing their incomes and expanding their networks as top motivators for pursuing GME than their older counterparts.

“In response to queries frequently received from our schools, we asked additional questions in our survey this year because meaningful shifts in prospective student demographics are underway. Understanding candidates from Gen Z – now the largest generation applying to business schools – is critical as programs plan for expanding the pipeline down the road,” said Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC. “We want to take a closer look at the trends among women, first-generation, and U.S. underrepresented candidates to equip schools with the knowledge that ensures every talented person can benefit from the best business education for them.”

Full-time MBA programs continue dominance while in-person experience trumps for Gen Z

Since 2019, the two-year MBA has been the preferred program among candidates globally. This year, the one-year MBA surpassed it as the most popular program choice, though the difference remains within the margin of error. Taken together, the full-time MBA of any duration continues to surpass interest in more flexible or executive MBAs and business master’s programs.

Gen Z is most interested in the two-year MBA and millennials are most interested in the one-year MBA. Despite growing up as digital natives, Gen Z also have a strong preference for in-person study, with 80 percent of Gen Z reporting preference for this modality compared to 69 percent of millennials. This could be an indication of where each generation is in their career—older candidates may have more established networks or more responsibilities at work or at home, while younger candidates are more interested in expanding their networks and may have more ease entering and exiting GME.

Flexibility speaks to women candidates as interest in the technology sector stagnates

It is true overall global preference remains with in-person learning. But online – and especially hybrid – programs have made in-roads with groups most likely to benefit from the flexibility they offer, specifically women, first-generation, and millennial candidates.

“There is no doubt that these programs play an important role in the overall equity of graduate management education, attracting candidates who rely on flexible program delivery and may not otherwise pursue a business degree,” said Anthony Wilbon, dean of Howard University’s School of Business and a board member of GMAC.

After graduation, consulting remains the top post-GME industry across generations and regions. Though change may be on the horizon in the number two slot – the technology industry – as Gen Z show more interest in finance and accounting than technology. While data was collected largely before the recent retraction of the tech industry, this year’s results demonstrate underlying challenges with the pipeline of GME candidates interested in tech – namely that Gen Z, women, and underrepresented U.S. candidates are less interested in the field.

The United States remain the top consideration as a study destination

COVID-19 forced people around the world to stay at home, but candidates are again looking to study abroad. Prospective students interested in studying outside of their country of citizenship is up, especially in Europe and Asia/Pacific Islands compared to last year – 84 percent of candidates from Asia are looking to study outside of their country of citizenship compared to 79 percent last year, and 81 percent of candidates from Europe are looking to study outside of their country of citizenship compared to 77 percent last year.

The trends driving candidates to study in places like the United States and Western Europe have not changed since last year. After losing the top spot for a year in 2020, the U.S. remains the most preferred study destination – driven by reputation and perceived career preparation, with 42 percent of respondents indicating interest, followed by Europe (37%) and Canada (9%). While candidates perceive U.S. GME programs as more expensive than others in Europe, Canada, or Australia, candidates also believe there is more financial aid available in the United States.

About the Prospective Student Survey

For more than a decade, the GMAC 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 (GME) program. This year’s summary report considers data collected in the 2022 calendar year from 2,710 respondents in 131 countries around the world. Among them, 40 percent are female, 44 percent are younger than 24 years-old, 21 percent are U.S. underrepresented population, and 55 percent majored in a non-business field as undergraduates. The survey continues to explore trends in the candidate pipeline, program preferences, and career goals, with new questions added this year about first-generation candidates, motivations for pursuing graduate management education, and social issues like sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The report also considers the longevity of trends in online and hybrid education and candidate mobility brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

About GMAC

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, 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.

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