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Data & Trends

Application Trends for 2009: A Closer Look

GMAC’s 2009 Application Trends Survey, announced in the August Deans Digest, finds that business school application volume remains high, but the growth seen over the last few years may be leveling off. The economic downturn, political forces, and other factors affect business school application trends as they play out in applicant profiles, acceptance and enrollment rates, tuition assistance, and marketing and outreach.

Applicant Profiles

Different types of MBA programs continue to draw different pools of applicants. In 2009, the greatest gender diversity was among applicants to flexible and part-time MBA programs, while three out of four applications to executive programs came from men. Full-time MBA programs continued to attract international applicants, but the proportion of foreign citizens has decreased slightly (from 56 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2009).

Applicants to specialized master’s programs were distributed relatively evenly in terms of gender and citizenship in 2009. As in 2008, Master of Accounting programs reported the greatest percentage of female applicants (62 percent), and Master of Finance programs reported the most international candidates (60 percent) among all master-level programs, including MBA.

The economic downturn, political uncertainty, and such factors as currency devaluation around the world may be affecting international student mobility. Full-time MBA programs in the United States have already experienced a slowdown in the application flow from international candidates. For example, in 2009, only 48 percent of US full-time MBA programs reported an increase in the number of applications from foreign citizens, compared with 79 percent of programs last year. Of the 42 percent of US full-time MBA programs reporting a decline in the number of foreign applicants, 70 percent experienced the largest decrease in the number of applications from Indian citizens.

Graduate management programs in the United States strive to recruit candidates with diverse backgrounds. Overall, the proportion of Hispanic, Latino, African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaska Native applicants combined increased slightly across all program types in 2009. Programs receiving the greatest share of applications from minority groups included executive MBA programs (22 percent), flexible programs (19 percent) and part-time programs (18 percent).

Acceptance and Enrollment Rates

Two-year programs reported the lowest acceptance rates among MBA programs, as they did in 2008. Among specialized master’s programs, Master of Finance programs reported the lowest acceptance rates. As expected, there was a strong negative correlation throughout all types of degrees and programs surveyed between the number of applications received and the percentage of applicants accepted, especially among doctoral and full-time MBA programs. Most applicants accepted to EMBA and part-time MBA programs (82 percent) were likely to enroll in 2009. Relatively low average enrollment rates among applicants for full-time two-year MBA and Master of Finance programs (59 percent) can be partially explained by applicant behavior. On average, applicants interested in these two programs apply to three schools.

Tuition Assistance

Business schools use a variety of tools to attract the right candidate and help them finance their education, especially those who plan to leave their jobs for one or two years to pursue graduate management education full-time. Tuition assistance is especially important during economic downturns. Nearly all full-time MBA and specialized master’s programs (97 percent and 91 percent, respectively) offered tuition assistance. Programs with scholarship funds reported that on average, 36 percent of incoming students would receive a scholarship in 2009.

Marketing and Outreach

Business schools recognize the importance of brand development and promotion. During a recession, though, marketing dollars are a regular target for belt tightening.

In 2009, median marketing budgets ranged from US$15,000 at programs with fewer than 50 students per class to US$140,000 at programs with more than 100 students per class. MBA programs budgeted a significantly higher amount of money for marketing activities than a typical specialized master’s or doctoral program. Among MBA programs, full-time programs’ marketing budgets were typically the largest.

At least for now, marketing budgets are fairly stable. Most graduate management programs across degree and program types had the same amount of money as last year to target desired candidates and to communicate important messages to strategic audiences.

Some business schools designate recruitment and outreach activities as part of their marketing functions, while others consider recruitment activities either as stand-alone functions or some combination of functions. By communications channel, the largest share of graduate management program recruitment budgets (43 percent) supported campus events. Reflecting the explosive growth of information exchange via digital media, the next major recruitment tool was electronic outreach, which includes email campaigns, online chats, instant messaging, social networking sites, and website enhancements. Nearly one-fifth of an average recruitment budget (19 percent) was allocated to electronic outreach.

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