Graduate Management News
Data & Trends

Countries’ Educational Reputations Sway Student Preferences

Management education is becoming increasingly global, but the vast majority of prospective students still want to study in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. And the reputation of a country’s educational system is the No. 1 reason they cite for choosing a specific destination, according to 16,000 prospective graduate management students queried in the newly released Prospective Students Survey Report.

Those top three countries vary substantially in their appeal to international students. Some 72 percent of students surveyed worldwide would prefer to study in the US, but of those, just 35 percent come from outside the US. In contrast, among those who prefer the UK, some 93 percent are non-UK citizens, and among those who prefer Canada, 51 percent are non-Canadians.

There were also differences in secondary reasons why prospective students want to study in the US vs. other countries. Those who prefer the US cite better career preparation, whereas improved chances for an international career is cited for non-US destinations. Notably, affordability was cited among respondents selecting Canada, Singapore, and India. 

“This is the first time we asked prospects about why they preferred specific study destinations. The results are a natural companion to the GMAT score-sending data we recently released in our Geographic Trend Reports. Schools may find this information useful as they look to tailor their messages to domestic and international talent, as well as gain deeper insight about the decision making of their target applicants,” said study author Gregg Schoenfeld, research director at the Graduate Management Admission Council.  

With more than 56,000 business school aspirants providing feedback in the study over the past three years, the Prospective Students Survey is one of the largest surveys of its kind. Results are based on a year-long poll of registrants in 2011 to the website, a resource for prospective graduate business and management students and the portal to schedule GMAT exam appointments. Each month, a random sampling of those who registered on the site three months earlier is surveyed about their motivations, behaviors, program choices, and intended career outcomes. Other key findings from the 2012 survey report include:

  • Distinct program selection: The proportion of registrants who were interested only in non-MBA master’s degree programs rose to 18 percent, up 5 percentage points from 2009 to 2011, as the proportion interested in both MBA and other types of master’s programs fell. The proportion of prospects interested only in MBA programs remained steady at around 55 percent. 
  • Profile and Timing: Those interested in MBA programs tend to be older than those interested in non-MBA master’s programs and tend to take longer to even consider graduate management programs as an option. But once the decision to pursue a graduate degree has been made, there isn’t much difference between MBA and non-MBA master’s applicants in the average timeline to contemplating a degree (around 18 months), preparation (four months), and applying (two to four months).
  • Motivations: Top motivators for pursuing a degree are increased job opportunities; salary potential; the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities; and an accelerated career path, each cited by more than 60 percent of the respondents. The top motivators did not vary much by gender or age or intended degree.
  • Paying for school: Finances remain a top concern for potential students, with nearly half (49%) saying that earning a graduate business degree would cost more than they have. The percentage potential students citing financial aspects as an important factor in school selection rose significantly, from 12 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2011, as students expect to rely more on savings or family support and less on loans and scholarships to pay for school. (See the interactive tool for details on funding mix by program type and citizenship groups.)

Click on the image for a mini version of the interactive research tool.

GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey Report is now available. 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 schools that use the GMAT exam ( login required).

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