Graduate Management News
Data & Trends

Prospective Students See B-School as an Investment in Themselves

Although the economy may affect the number of students who apply to graduate business school, students’ motivations, aspirations, and financing plans remain steady through shifts in economic perceptions. GMAC’s 2011 Prospective Students Survey shows that across economic cycles, graduate business school is consistently seen as a good bet for people to develop skills, advance their careers, and gain access to better career opportunities.

“Although the GMAT volume has softened slightly from record years in 2008 and 2009, we find that economic conditions have little or no effect on the motivations of those who take the defining step of registering on,” said survey report author Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC director of management education research. “By and large, they are dedicated to improving themselves and their career paths.”

The Prospective Students Survey is an ongoing study of potential students who register at, a web portal for students interested in graduate management education and for the GMAT exam, used in the admissions process by business schools worldwide. Each month, a random sample of those who registered on the site three months earlier is surveyed. The 2011 report includes findings from the 22,103 respondents from 2009 and the 17,669 respondents from 2010. Just 1 percent of all 2009 and 2010 respondents had decided not to pursue graduate management education three months after registering on the site, a percentage that has remained steady since the survey was started in 2003. 

The survey has tracked planned sources of business school funding over the years, finding that parental support peaked and employer assistance hit a record low in 2007. But the overall breakdown of how students plan to finance their degree changed little from 2009 to 2010. For the past two years combined, prospective students overall expected loans to account for 30 percent of the tab, personal earnings or savings, 21 percent; grants, fellowships, or scholarships, 19 percent; employer assistance, 18 percent; and parental support, 9 percent.  But within the global breakdown are wide differences by region:


  • Loans are the largest source of financing for potential students in Central Asia (36 percent) and the US (30 percent) and, but a minor source for those from Europe (17 percent), the Middle East and Africa (12 percent), and  Asia (11 percent).
  • Personal earnings or savings are significant source of funding, particularly for residents of Canada (35 percent) and the Middle East or Africa (34 percent). US residents plan to use earnings or savings for just 21 percent of the bill, and Central Asians, 17 percent.
  • Parental support is the biggest source of funding for students in Asia (28 percent), but just 12 percent for those in Canada and 9 percent for those in the US.
  • The percentage of the cost expected to be covered by grants, fellowships, or scholarships ranges from 31 percent by those in Latin America and 29 percent by those in Central Asia and the Middle East or Africa to 19 percent of those in the US and 15 percent of those in Canada.

“Although 30 percent of the prospective students had no financial reservations whatsoever, financial concerns are consistently potential students’ top concern. And we find that concerns about an uncertain economy or poor job prospects may be easing, cited by 23 percent of students in 2010, down from 27 percent in 2009,” Schoenfeld said.


GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey Report is now available, along with an interactive research tool on student financing plans (click on the graphic above). The comprehensive interactive research data report, allowing viewers to examine survey results by demographics such as gender, age, and undergraduate major, is available to all GMAT-using schools ( login required).


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