Graduate Management News

December 2016

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

GMAC Viewpoints: Reflections on 2016 and Answering the Call to Challenges Ahead

Working together as a community to ensure that no talent goes undiscovered.

Sangeet Chowfla
“Something is happening here, but you [we] don’t know what it is…”

— Bob Dylan

I’m a fan of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, and one of the things I like about his prodigious work is that out of the hundreds of songs he’s written, many of the most memorable ones reflect on change, the one constant of life. As we look back on 2016, we reflect on a year of great change – here at GMAC, across the global graduate management education (GME) landscape, and around the world. And then we must prepare for continuing change ahead.

Last year at this time, I shared my thoughts on the changing face of GME. I specifically discussed what we are doing in response to the forces that are affecting management education, such as the impact of globalization and the growth of online education, the goals of the Millennial generation, and the question of what “business” will look like in the future.

And as we think ahead to 2017, we see that global change is only increasing in pace. The population of 20-29 year olds is in decline in our traditional geographies. Protectionist sentiments, as evidenced by Brexit and the US presidential election, are rising. A new kind of corporation is emerging – one that is defined by autonomous computing, the digitization of everything, an increasing reliance on data and the ability to leverage it, and ubiquitous computing.

The world of GME is also changing. Career aspirations among candidates and graduates are shifting, as evidenced by the rise of entrepreneurship. Our own research data shows us that the percentage of self-employed GME alumni who began their own business at graduation increased from 25 percent between 2000-2009 to 45 percent between 2010-2014. The diversity of program choices among schools is increasing and business schools in general are operating in a globally competitive environment, which has created new challenges for programs to stand out to candidates.

Global markets, diverse choices

At GMAC, we continue to evolve to face the challenges that lie ahead. We remain committed to working with business schools to better understand the (changing) needs and motivations of today’s students and workplace, and to helping prospective students worldwide gain more access to graduate management education. We are all fortunate that the demand for graduates with a management degree remains strong and that companies continue to express high levels of hiring demand for business school graduates. According to the 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey, 88 percent of corporate recruiters who work directly with participating graduate business schools plan to hire recent MBA graduates in 2016, compared with 80 percent of companies that actually hired MBAs in 2015.

These positive indicators notwithstanding, we also recognize some disturbing indicators ahead. The strong job market in the US could lead to a decline in domestic applications as prospective students weigh the increased opportunity costs of leaving their jobs against concerns about high costs and increasing debt. Elsewhere, our early data is showing that concerns about protectionism and visa restrictions are sharply curtailing student interest in studying in the US and the UK. Traditional application patterns may be starting to be disrupted.

There are both opportunities and challenges to be faced in the coming years. Businesses and career aspirations are transforming and the diversity of graduate management program types is increasing. Geographical choice is expanding. The implication for graduate management programs is that recruitment and admissions are becoming a two-way street. Selection is no longer limited to schools selecting and admitting the best candidates for them. Selection now includes candidates also choosing amongst options that span geographies and program types.

2016 in review

In 2016, we looked at how we address the needs of schools and candidates in three key areas:

In how we assess. The GMAT exam, administered to 259,000 test takers in 2016, remains the industry standard for building strong classrooms with candidates across the globe who are highly motivated, highly qualified, and serious about business school. In 2016 nearly nine out of 10 admits to full-time MBA programs in the USNWR listing was made through the GMAT, and our assessment share has grown over the last year. Meanwhile, we continue to make great strides in the way we help schools measure candidates through targeted assessments, such as with the NMAT by GMAC in India, which grew 15 percent to about 82,000 tests over the past year, and our Executive Assessment, a pilot program specifically designed for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs.

In how we inform. In our effort to help schools worldwide better understand the global candidate pipeline, we partnered with market research firm IPSOS on a global candidate segmentation study that focused on motivations and behaviors. The study identified seven global segments that have distinct differences on what motivates them to pursue GME, including the desire to be a role model, provide for one’s children, develop skills and impact society. The result is a platform that schools can use to connect with prospective students on an emotional level that is universal, avoids cultural bias and remains stable over time.

Our market intelligence and research data, notably the Corporate Recruiters Survey, Alumni Perspectives Survey, Prospective Students Survey, and Application Trends Survey, continue to provide schools with actionable data to drive decision-making at every stage of the student’s lifecycle. In 2016, we also launched Research Insights, a product aimed at providing quick snapshots of trending topics.

In addition, we endeavored to make it easier for prospective students to make informed application admissions decisions with the release of a User’s Guide to Full-Time MBA Rankings. This resource, available on, provides in-depth insight into the methodologies used by the five most popular business school rankings.

In how we convene. In 2016, we continued to extend our value to the school community through our professional development events and Council activities. We hosted our largest ever Annual Conference, in Washington, DC, as well as expanded the Europe and Asia Pacific conferences. Our Admissions Institute for New Professionals was delivered in the US and in Europe and is set to expand to the US west coast and Asia in 2017.  We continue to look for more ways to convene the GME community through expanded events for admissions professionals, test prep organizations and events with an emphasis on master’s programs.

We worked with 19 schools to convene the Applications Process Advisory Group with the goal to reduce applicant stress and streamline applications processes. The first output of this activity was the creation of a common letter of recommendation based upon psychometrically sound principles. An application of the “do once – apply many” principle that has been the hallmark of the GMAT and NMAT assessments.

This year, we also added seven new schools across four continents to our global membership, bringing our membership to 220 institutions and further ensuring that we have representation from graduate management institutions throughout the world who can share their insights and expertise to help us forward our mission of improving decision making about the discovery and evaluation of talent.

The challenges ahead

While we look back on 2016 with a sense of satisfaction, we also recognize that much still needs to be done. We approach 2017 with three primary objectives:

Growing and diversifying the candidate pipeline. This remains our primary task. We must grow awareness of the benefits of graduate management education while helping schools evaluate candidates and helping candidates evaluate schools. In 2017 we will be piloting an advocacy campaign, expanding our reach and relevance for Masters programs and rebuilding our GMASS search service.

Expanding our digital capabilities. We need to become a maker of digital connections in addition to being a testing organization.  We will be rebuilding with a focus on enhancing the user experience and positioning the site as a complete and trusted information source that connects candidates with schools and guides them in their education and career decisions. To enable this, we are building a framework and new tools designed to help students find the best graduate management program to meet their goals, including a segmentation widget to help them discover more about who they are as a candidate, an updated school finder tool with improved user-focused interaction, and a new responsive design with enhanced opportunities for localized and personalized content.

Measuring and ensuring relevance. We can only do the above if we deliver on our original promise; that our assessment instruments remain the most valid, reliable, secure, and fair tools to evaluate potential students for your programs. In 2017, we will be re-evaluating all aspects of our programs to ensure this, and will be reaching out to many of you for inputs about the skills that your classrooms will need in the future and the scoring systems that are the most relevant in assembling your classes.

We view our success by how effectively we help our community succeed. We measure our success by bringing new and innovative intelligence, insights, tools, assessments, and students to you so that you can succeed and that we can work together as a community to ensure that talent does not go undiscovered.

I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

About the Author

Sangeet ChowflaSangeet Chowfla is President and CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council.