Motivations for Going to Business School Remain Steady Across Economic Cycles, GMAC Research Finds

The motivations behind people's interest in management education tend to play a key role in determining the types of programs they consider

The reasons people are drawn to business school remain constant despite the cyclical nature of the economy, with the desire to develop new skills and abilities, gain access to better career opportunities and find more interesting and challenging work leading the way, according to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), owner of the GMAT exam.

People place less emphasis on other motivating factors, such as gaining recognition or respect, learning to effectively influence others or earning a credential, the two-year study of nearly 40,000 people interested in applying to MBA or other graduate management education programs found.

Meanwhile, respondents to GMAC's Prospective Students Survey said concern about the economy is fading as a reason they might have reservations about pursuing a graduate business degree. Instead, people indicated they focus more on other questions -- such as whether they can sustain the commitment of time and energy needed to succeed in business school -- when weighing the potential risks and rewards of investing in management education.

The motivations behind people's interest in management education tend to play a key role in determining the types of programs they consider, according to the survey.

Full-time MBA programs particularly appeal to people who want to maximize networking opportunities, whereas individuals driven by a desire to maintain their competitiveness in the job market gravitate more to part-time, distance-learning and executive MBA programs, GMAC researchers discovered. Meanwhile, master's programs that specialize in areas such as accounting or finance click with people who want to sharpen their ability to control situations.

"Taking a deeper look at the potential applicant's expectations and the key drivers influencing their choice of program offers us some really interesting data," said Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC's director of management education research and author of the survey report. "Being able to show differing motivations by program type or specific recruiting segments can help business schools better target their unique messages to candidates who might be most receptive."

Gender plays a key role in determining people's priorities and the sets of skills they want to gain most from their education. According to the survey, women were more likely than men to express interest in developing their management skills. Conversely, men were motivated to a greater extent than their female counterparts by the opportunity to become more adept at handling technical and operational challenges.

The research is detailed in GMAC's 2011 Prospective Students Survey report, which tallied responses over two years from 39,772 people (17,669 in 2010 and 22,103 in 2009) with accounts on, the online registration portal for the GMAT exam. People sign up on the website, operated by GMAC, as a preliminary step when considering whether to set up an appointment to sit for the GMAT exam and ultimately apply to business school.

The 2011 GMAC Prospective Students Survey report and an interactive research tool with data from the survey are available at

About GMAC and the GMAT exam

The Graduate Management Admission Council ( is a nonprofit education organization of leading graduate business schools and owner of GMAT® exam, used by more than 5,000 graduate business and management programs around the world. GMAC is based in Reston, Virginia, and has regional offices in London, New Delhi and Hong Kong. The GMAT exam -- the only standardized test designed expressly for graduate business and management programs worldwide -- is continuously available at more than 530 test centers in over 110 countries. More information about the GMAT is available at