When Students Choose a Business School, Rankings Aren't Top Priority

Regional and Generational Preferences Impact Top Selection Criteria

Top Criteria for School Selection in Rank Order by Preferred Study Destination

RESTON, VA--(Marketwired - Apr 7, 2015) - Conventional wisdom holds that students considering business school give great weight, if not the greatest weight, to published school rankings as a guide to their decision. The truth, however, is that students place other factors above rankings in selecting a school according to the Graduate Management Admission Council's 2015 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report released today.

The survey -- of nearly 12,000 registrants to GMAC's mba.com website and conducted throughout 2014 -- provides both schools and students with valuable insight into the business school decision-making process for MBA and specialized business master's degree candidates (such as a Master in Management, Accounting or Finance). The survey uncovers that students from various parts of the world display distinct differences in ascribing what factors matter most to them and the order of importance in which they consider those factors when making decisions about b-school.

When students listed their top five consideration criteria for actually selecting a program and a study destination, rankings didn't rank. The study destination distinction is important as more than half of prospective students (52 percent) seek to study outside their country of citizenship, up from 40 percent in 2010 (and noticeable among Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern citizens). The top 10 preferred study destinations worldwide are the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore, Netherlands, and Australia.

The survey does show that published rankings have influence in candidates' school consideration but places rankings overall as the third most consulted information resource for prospective students, finishing behind school websites and friends and family. (See Table 5 of the survey report.)

"Given the degree to which school rankings dominate the discussion, it is interesting that as their decision making progresses, students themselves say that rankings fall in importance," said Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC's director of Management Education Research. "While the survey is geared toward helping schools market to prospective students, applicants can use report insights to inform and strengthen their selection process."

In addition to these findings, the 2015 report also explores regional and generational differences regarding prospective students' career goals, program preferences, decision-making time lines, top study destinations, as well as, education financing choices, motivations, online/offline course delivery, the role of social media and preferences about b-school culture. With analysis of survey responses available for world regions and more than 30 specific countries, this is the largest data resource of its kind available to the graduate management education community.

An especially interesting finding focuses on aspiring entrepreneurs, with 28 percent of survey respondents indicating that they plan to start their own businesses compared with 19 percent just five years ago. Respondents in Africa (45 percent), Latin America (44 percent) and Central and South Asia including India (43 percent) led this segment. (See Figure 2 of the report for Distribution of Career Goals, by Region.)

Highlights from the survey findings include:

  • Even as business school portfolios of master's programs continue to diversify, the MBA remains the degree most often considered by prospective students. MBA programs are exclusively considered by half (52 percent) of prospective students, globally. Gauging the interest of prospective students across more than 25 MBA and specialized business master's program options, 26 percent of today's candidates are considering both degree types.
  • Sixty-five percent of prospective students pursue graduate management education to increase the job opportunities that are available to them.
  • Segmenting prospective students by career goals reveals three groups: career enhancers (34 percent of respondents), career switchers (38 percent), and aspiring entrepreneurs (28 percent).
  • The Millennial generation (those born from 1980 to 1998) dominates the distribution of today's prospective business school students and represented 88 percent of all survey respondents. Schools have three-months, on average, to engage Millennials from when they take the GMAT exam and when they submit their first application to business school.
  • Although the U.S. remains the top preferred study destination for prospective students around the world (66 percent of respondents), destinations such as Hong Kong (up 2.4 percentage points since 2010), Canada and Germany (up one percentage point each) have seen the greatest increase as preferred study destinations in the past five years.
  • Financial issues remain the most prominent reservation among all prospective students; 48 percent of candidates say attending business school requires more money than they have available and 44 percent are hesitant about taking on a large financial debt. Both of these figures have declined, however, since 2010.

To download the report, visit gmac.com/prospectivestudents.

For supporting graphics, visit the GMAC News Center.

About GMAC: The Graduate Management Admission Council (gmac.com) is a nonprofit education organization of leading graduate business schools and owner of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT exam), used by more than 6,100 graduate business and management programs worldwide -- along with other products designed to help students find, connect and apply and gain admittance to business and management programs around the world. GMAC is based in Reston, Va., 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 600 test centers in 113 countries. More information about the GMAT exam is available at mba.com. For more information about GMAC, please visit gmac.com/newscenter.