Graduate Management News
Data & Trends

Application Trends Survey and Global MBA™ Graduate Survey: Two Windows into the Market

GMAC recently released results of two surveys, the Global MBA Graduate Survey, and the Application Trends Survey.

Useful individually, when viewed together, the surveys can give schools a greater understanding of the graduate management education market and their position in it. This year, the surveys shed some light on what, for many business school professionals, has been a puzzling, and even frustrating, year.

Application Trends Survey: Different Program Types, Different Experiences

Of all the program types we surveyed in the Application Trends Survey, executive programs have fared best this year. Their reliance on a largely local and regional applicant base, and their ties to corporations that act as feeders for the programs (and sponsors of students), have brought them steady increases in application volume nearly every year since 2001. This year, more than half of all executive programs reported increases in application volume. One group of applicants executive programs did not see more of, however, was women. Female business school students tend to go to business school at a younger age than their male counterparts, which makes executive MBA programs less practical options for them.

Part-time programs reported only moderate changes in application volume compared with last year but received more applications this year from women and U.S. underrepresented minorities. These two groups carry more pre-business school educational debt than prospective students in general and are attracted to the price point and flexible scheduling part-time programs offer.

Despite the perks of going to school part-time, though, results of the Global MBA Graduate Survey tell us that the satisfaction levels of part-time students and their ratings of the overall value of the MBA degree still lag those of full-time students. Knowing that the value ratings are based largely on students’ assessment of the quality of their program, it would seem that students feel they are making some trade-offs in quality when they choose less costly alternatives to full-time programs. A challenge for schools is to address the satisfaction gap and foster a more positive experience for all students.

With regard to application volume, full-time programs have had a particularly rough year. Forty-one percent reported significant declines in application volume from 2003 to 2004, losses no doubt caused in part by a diminished pool of international applicants. Historically a reliable source of applications for full-time programs worldwide, international applicants are now in short supply. The reasons range from declines in the business school–aged population in major world regions to a reluctance on the part of prospective students to study abroad (perhaps because of the difficult job market for graduates requiring work visas and a reduction in the number of study visas granted).

Full-time programs in the United States started to see a decline in the number of international applicants in 2003, at the same time full-time programs outside the United States were seeing a steep increase. This year, full-time programs worldwide reported a decline in the number of international applicants.

Global MBA Graduate Survey: Quality Is Key, Domestic and International Students Choose Schools Differently

As in years past, graduating MBA students are generally pleased with the value and benefits of the MBA degree. This year, fifty-eight percent of students feel the value of their MBA is outstanding or excellent. Sixty-two percent would definitely recommend their program to someone else who was interested in an MBA. What’s behind these responses? The quality of various aspects of their programs, from faculty and curriculum to program management.

The quality and reputation of a school is, in fact, the most important consideration in students’ choice of schools. The other most important considerations are financial cost, personal fit, and location of the school.

Although quality carries the most weight in students’ decisions about where to enroll, the survey revealed some differences in the way domestic and international students choose their schools. Domestic students place more importance on—

  • school accreditation status
  • school location
  • the convenience of class schedules
  • the local reputation of the school

By contrast, international students weigh the following factors more heavily in their school decisions:

  • the school’s reputation for placing graduates in jobs
  • the availability of financial aid
  • the diversity of faculty and students

International students’ emphasis on a school’s placement record is in keeping with results of the Application Trends Survey. The results of that survey suggest that (entirely justified) concerns about an inhospitable job market for international candidates may be dissuading prospective students from applying to programs outside their countries of citizenship.

Analysis: Surveys Paint a Picture of a Market in Flux

Results of the Global MBA Graduate Survey and the Application Trends Survey have provided further evidence of something most people in graduate management education have perceived all year: The market is experiencing a transition on several fronts.

We are still bobbing in the wake of the dot-com bust and seeing a sorting out of industry sectors that were hard hit by corporate scandal. The economic recovery is gaining traction in the job market, but slowly, and with results that often don’t live up to economists’ hopeful predictions. More than half the class of 2004 wants to use their MBA degrees to facilitate a job change, but will they be able to find the jobs they want in a market that favors new hires with directly applicable experience?

Applicants seem to be seeking out business school programs that allow them to keep their jobs, that don’t make it necessary to relocate, and that don’t require study visas. The traditional two-year MBA program, the most time-intensive and costly of MBA program formats, has lost some application volume as a result. Shorter programs, and programs that tap local and regional sources for the bulk of their applicants, have benefited. Will this trend continue?

Population trends in Asia, the United States, and Western Europe have meant a reduced applicant pool, but the coming demographic bulge (the rising generation is expected to be larger than the Baby Boomers) is expected to yield more potential business school applicants as early as next year. Meanwhile, typically reliable sources of applications are not producing the way they did only last year. One-quarter of schools surveyed in the Application Trends Survey said they have seen a reduction in the number of applications from two countries that have for years contributed significantly to the applicant pool, China and India. But are these application patterns purely a result of population trends that will change soon, as predicted, or are they also a result of an inhospitable job market for international graduates that may not change any time soon?

As always, the surveys have given us a greater understanding of the market while raising new and yet unanswered questions. What follows is a brief sample of results, but for more results, download the surveys’ executive reports by clicking the links below:

Application Trends Survey

Global MBA Graduate Survey

The Global MBA Graduate Survey, now in its fifth year, focuses on the decisions and actions of graduating MBAs. Results of the survey can be used to—

  • generate strategic information to share with deans and other senior administrators
  • increase recruiting effectiveness by identifying high-impact activities
  • determine student satisfaction compared with that of graduates of other programs
  • enhance the reach and influence of school communications
  • manage job offer and salary expectations

The Application Trends Survey tracks year-to-year change in graduate business school application volume overall, at different types of programs, and for different applicant subgroups. The survey also gathers information on such topics as special recruiting efforts, changes in academic qualifications of applicants, and changes in class size. Schools that participate in the survey receive a customized report so they can benchmark their results against those of their competitors.

Learn More, Get Involved

For more results of the Application Trends Survey and the Global MBA Graduate Survey, visit To learn more about how to use the surveys, or to find out how to participate in upcoming GMAC surveys, contact Rachel Edgington at

Global MBA™ Graduate Survey is a registered trademark of the Graduate Management Admission Council™. All rights reserved.
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