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October 2013

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2013 Application Trends Survey Report Cover 

Application Trends: What's up with MBAs and Master's Programs?

Most of us are loyal about monitoring the weather forecast and using the information to determine what to wear (or pack), or even which activities to pursue that will best fit conditions. We expect some fluctuations in the foretelling and change course if we get new or additional information.  

GMAC’s Application Trends Survey is arguably one of the best barometers in the arena of graduate management education today. The survey (now in its 14th year) offers a view of the shifts business schools face across the portfolio of MBA and master’s programs. And, not only does it give direction for application volumes for the incoming class, also revealed are expected changes in size of the program, details about who’s applying (applicant characteristics and perceived level of applicant quality), and information about school recruiting efforts that may influence the trends.

Responses from admissions professionals at nearly 700 business school programs in 42 countries this year made for a wealth of information, and the findings were shared in a recent webinar, Application Trends: What’s up with MBAs and Master’s Programs? Don’t worry if you missed the chance to tune-in live, you can still watch the archived recording and download the slides to gain valuable information about what shifts are seen in the applicant pool and recruiting efforts of business schools.

Betsy Kacizak, senior manager in professional education and training at GMAC, moderated the discussion and was keen to focus on three segments that schools specifically ask about: working professionals, foreign candidates, and undergraduates. “One of the webinar participants put it best, saying ‘For most of us "butts in seats" is key’. And, because I’ve worked on campus in both admissions and career services roles, I understand how closely schools are watching applications from these groups and wondering how they may be shaping overall trends,” she said. 

GMAC researchers Rebecca Estrada and Gregg Schoenfeld led the webinar discussion, and featured the details for these three applicant types where data was available by region and program. “Most schools have some internationalization strategies in place and may not have been surprised to see that foreign applicants are driving the growth in the application volumes for the 2013-14 incoming class. That reinforces the attention the report has received in global publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Australian, Times of India, and other venues,” said Estrada. “However, targeted efforts to recruit undergraduate talent showed a great deal of regional variation between the US (61% of full-time one-year MBA programs recruiting this talent), compared with Europe (13%) and Asia-Pacific (11%) – which is the perfect set up to examine potential opportunities,” she added.

Undergraduate outreach matters to business programs

The weather analogy is suitable for the survey data because of the different types of information involved. For example, in describing weather changes for how hot it is, we may need to take into account not just air temperature but also relative humidity, or even wind patterns and dew points (and just maybe proximity to a beach or swimming pool for cooling down!). Similarly, the GMAC Application Trends Survey gauges shifts at the program level, focused on median figures, and does not rely separately on the actual number of applications because of the wide fluctuations in program size and regional norms that participate in the global study.

“With more than 150 schools listening live, we’re fortunate to get the chance to engage their questions on the heels of the data release, and focus on school data needs as they digest the information – like reminding them about examining acceptance and enrollment rates, or data broken down by state groupings to show US regional trends for participants," said Schoenfeld.

GMAC's market intelligence can help business schools gauge these shifts. For example, Master in Management (MiM) programs showed a sixth year of continued application volume gains. When asked in the webinar about how this growth is seen in the US – 58 percent of US MiM programs saw volume increases from 2012 (12 programs submitted data). We were able to supplement the comments with GMAT data showing that there is growth in the number of GMAT score reports sent to US MiM programs (9,215 score reports sent to 159 US programs in testing year 2012, up from 6,491 sent to 128 programs in 2009).

Other Webinar Highlights

  • In global findings, active recruitment of foreign talent is seen among a majority of full-time, two-year MBA (70%), Master in Management (64%), and full-time, one-year MBA (58%) programs.
  • Many of the application gains for full-time, two-year MBA programs in the US come from international students: 56 percent of the programs had more international applicants this year than last, and 59 percent reported fewer domestic applicants this year than last. The foreign student segment helped drive the gains of 52 percent of programs that reported application volume increases over 2012 - the first time since 2009 that a majority of US full-time MBA programs reported year-to-year growth. 
  • More than 100 participants voted in a poll during the webinar on which world regions they hoped to grow their foreign applicant pool from in 2014, with Latin America drawing the greatest share of votes (32 percent).
  • While acceptance rates have remained relatively stable, there have been some variations in enrollment rates. Full-time, two-year MBA programs saw a slight drop in enrollment rates this year – from 59% in 2012 to 55% this year. On the other hand, full-time, one-year MBA programs saw an increase – from 62% in 2012 to 67% in 2013. The largest drop in enrollment rates was reported by online MBA programs, from 85% in 2012 to 73% in 2013.
  • Professional MBA programs (part-time, online, and executive MBAs) saw declines after four years of steady volumes. The change may be reflective of tough economic conditions and concerns from working professionals about demands on their time when pursuing a graduate business degree.
  • While undergraduates may not seem like a usual suspect in recruiting, they are the fastest growing GMAT segment, and most interested in pursuing a specialized master’s degree. Master in Accounting and Finance program types saw the largest declines this year. The best time to target this group is the end of their sophomore year when they begin considering business school.

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