Why It’s Easier To Get Into A Top School

by John A. Byrne on

If you applied to the full-time MBA program at a top business school last year, the odds of you’re getting an acceptance went slightly up due to the overall decline in applications. And in some cases, the chance of a yes from a top school went up significantly.

That’s the conclusion from a new Bloomberg BusinessWeek study of acceptance rates from data recently provided by the top 30 schools in the BusinessWeek ranking.

Acceptance rates at some schools rose far in excess of the decline in applications due to the cacading effect of the overall fall in apps. As better schools began accepting a larger percentage of their applicant pool, it became harder for other schools to turn their accepted applicants into admits. The result: even some schools that reported application increases saw a dramatic fall in their acceptance rates.

At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business, for example, 41% of the applicants to the Class of 2013 were accepted, up 11 full percentage points from the 30% acceptance rate a year earlier. Yet, applications to the school’s full-time MBA program increased by 19%. But fewer applicants who gained an acceptance–45%–enrolled in the program, versus 52% a year earlier. That’s largely because other business schools ranked higher than Carlson accepted a larger percentage of applicants and some of them preferred those schools over Carlson.

The same trend was evident at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Its applications rose by 7.6% for the Class of 2013, yet the school’s acceptance rate ballooned to 32% from 25% in 2010. Why? The admissions yield–the perentage of accepted applicants who enroll at the school–plummeted to 53% from 71% a year ago.

UCLA’s Anderson School, one of the other few schools to buck the trend of declining applications, had exactly the same acceptance rate as last year–29%–even though its application pool rose by 10.9%. How come? It’s yield dropped by four percentage points to 48% from 52% a year earlier.

Some of the largest increases in accapetance rates occurred at schools just outside most top ten lists: Acceptance rates at both Cornell’s Johnson School of Business and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business hit 27% for the Class of 2013, up from 23% and 22%, respectively. Some 32% of the applicants to Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business were accepted, versus 25% a year earlier.

All told, BusinessWeek reported that application volume was down at 21 of its top 30 full-time MBA programs, with the biggest drop of any top ten school–8.1% to 6,618 applications–at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions of Stanford’s B-school, expressed little concern over the drop, the second consecutive year of declining applications at the school. “We’re down from a kind of all-time high,” he told the campus newspaper. “The context is important.”

Over the past ten years, noted Bolton, business school applications have ridden a cycle of ups and downs. In 2002, 5,864 people applied to Stanford GSB. Three years later, the  applicant pool fell to 4,582. Bolton told the paper that the most competitive years for admission were in 2009 and 2010 when applications hit 7,536 and 7,204, respectively. Despite two consecutive years of decline, Bolton pointed out that this year was still the third most competitive year in the past ten.

“Selectivity is a dual-edged sword in that it gives you the luxury of selecting a class, but it does have the unintended effect of scaring away some highly talented applicants that should be considering the program that maybe get a little daunted by the admissions rate,” Bolton told The Stanford Daily.

Two-thirds of BusinessWeek’s top 30 business schools admitted a larger percentage of applicants this year, up from one-third the year before.

For many schools, this is the second consecutive decline in annual applications. Besides Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School’s more recent 5.7% fall follows a 9% decline the year earlier. Yet, the school admitted a larger group of 845 students in the Class of 2013 versus 817, which pushed its acceptance rate to an estimated 19%, below Dartmouth and Columbia.

In an earlier interview with Poets&Quants, Wharton Admissions Director Ankur Kumar attributed the application declines two main reasons. “First, the macro economic issues in the world are causing some people to stay in the work place,” said Kumar. “After living through a period of uncertainly in the past coupe of years, some may want to hold fast to their jobs and not take the risk. Other people in emerging markets have really robust professional careers and they see more opportunity in the jobs they already have. Secondly, there is the growth of competitors in other markets, mainly in Europe and Asia.”

(See next page for a table of acceptance rates and application volume for the top 30 full-time MBA programs)

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  • Giovanni

    Ms Kumar at Wharton may add a third argument to her statement: Business schools have increased tuition fee dramatically and some applicants are put off by the prohibitive price tag for an MBA.

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