Acceptance Rates At The Top 50 U.S. Business Schools

by John A. Byrne on

Image 4 - Kenan-Flagler GraduationYou’ve probably read that applications to MBA programs have been trending down in recent years. So you might think it’s slightly easier to get into a ranked business school.

Forget it.

A new analysis of application volume and acceptance rates at the top 50 U.S. business schools shows that at the vast majority of MBA programs, applications are up and acceptance rates are predictably down. This past year it was tougher to get into a highly ranked business school than it was the year before.

EIGHT OF TOP TEN SCHOOLS REPORT LOWER ACCEPTANCE RATES THIS PAST YEAR

In fact, the more ambitious your target schools were, the more likely it was that you faced more competition than you would have if you applied in 2012. Eight of the top ten schools were harder to get into in 2013 than in 2012. The only Top 10 exceptions–and the increase in the acceptance rate for these two exceptions was so small as to be inconsequential–were Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School. At Tuck, the admit rate climbed ever so slightly to 20.8% from 20.4%, while at Haas, the acceptance rate inched higher to 14.3% from 13.8%.

At the University of Chicago’s Booth School, MIT Sloan, and Columbia Business School, acceptance rates fell significantly. Booth went to 21.0%, from 23.0%; MIT to 13.1%, from 15.6%, and Columbia to 18.1% from 20.8%.

Some of the biggest changes, however, occurred outside the Top 10. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, for example, saw its acceptance rate fall to 33.7% from 40.6% in 2012. The latter number was something of an aberration for Ross caused when the school decided to shut down its co-signer loan program for international students. Ross decided to admit more candidates to offset the expected decline in offers from prospective students who decided not to go to Michigan because of the loan issue.

The schools with the lowest acceptance rates? Stanford, where 93 out of every 100 applicants gets dinged; Harvard, which turns down 89 of every 100 candidates; MIT Sloan, which rejects 87 of every 100; Berkeley, which says ‘no’ to 86 out of 100 candidates; NYU Stern, which turns away 84 of every 100, and Columbia Business School, which passed on 82 out of every 100 prospects. The trend is obvious: MBA candidates love to study on the West or the East Coasts, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, or New York City. It doesn’t hurt that all these schools are among the very best in the world.

APPLICATION VOLUME WAS UP AT 33 OF THE TOP 50 BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN THE U.S.

All told, 30 of the Top 50 schools reported lower admit rates, while 20 had increases, generally just a fraction or two above what they had reported in 2012. There was no major falloff at any of the Top 50 schools–at least not discernible by examining year-over-year data.

When it came to application volume, the same story held true. The vast majority of Top 50 schools–33 full-time MBA programs–reported receiving more applications in 2013 than they had in 2012. Generally, the highest ranked schools did better. Nine out of the Top 10 MBA programs reported application increases, with the only exception being Duke University’s Fuqua School. But even at Duke the decrease was inconsequential: 3,150 applications in 2013 versus 3,161 applications in 2012–a difference of only 11 applicants.

The more highly ranked MBA programs also reported the largest single increases: Chicago Booth was up 10.6% in a single year, Northwestern Kellogg was up 9.9%, while MIT Sloan saw a 9.6% jump in applications.

The data reveals another fact that may be surprising to some: many of the top 50 full-time MBA programs are quite small, with annual intakes that number less than 100 students. Some 14 of the top 50 welcome entering classes that are fewer than 100 students. The smallest: 38 incoming students at the University of Florida’s Hough School of Business and just 49 at the University of Georgia.

(See the following page for acceptance rates, application volume, admit and enrolled data for the top 50 U.S. business schools)

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  • Mr Curious

    This is more of a general question, maybe HBSGuru can answer this one. This situation seems similar to the law school application spike post 2008 economic meltdown. Admissions become increasingly competitive and selective at the top 14 law school. However, as the legal market flattened out, the demand decreased, while the supply of JDs increased. I know there are other fields that MBAs can go into, but will there be an oversupply of MBAs in the future or do you think the demand will continue to stay the same or increase for an MBA? Presently, it seems clear that an MBA from a top school has much marketable value than a JD in the legal field (entry level salary for law graduates has stayed the same for 7 years– 160,000, while the average salary an MBA is increasing)?

  • It’s Whatever

    What strikes me is that NYU and UCLA, CMU, have a lower number of applications yet better yield rates than some of the other top schools. John, any sense of why this happened? Are they getting more applicants this year? I can understand NYU might still have issues with the Wall Street downsizing, but Columba still drew more students applying.

  • FutureMBAHopeful

    John,

    This is a helpful piece – much appreciated. I was struck by the improvement in admissions stats at a number of schools, but found Cornell to be a particularly strong performer. By my calculation they show 12% application growth – a 55% yield on accepted applicants (which is up 6%), and a 5.5% improvement or lowering of their acceptance rate. These seem like very strong numbers. Were these numbers a part of USNs recent rankings? If not – it would appear they would be an excellent candidate for a rise in USN rankings next year. Any thoughts on their material improvement in admissions numbers – new Dean, NYC etc?

    Thx again

  • TraderONE

    CMU is far underrated school! it has 8 nobel laureates, and has the best in operation management and information systems which in reality the backbone of modern businesses! Its core technical foundation is unmatched by most school. However, it is always seen as safe school for Stanford and Harvard with no reason to be frank.

  • Myron

    What is wrong with Georgetown? 52.8% admission rate is one of the highest and 38% meager yield. Ouch. In contrast to the dean’s recent pompous interviews, Georgetown looks like a back up B-School and accepts most applicants.

    It would be interesting to see, where Ross would end up with its admission rate without co-signer loan. What led to Tepper’s rising admission rate? It went against the trend.

  • It’sRealSimple

    It’s actually a lot more simple I think. UCLA is in the middle of LA (beautiful city, weather, AND people) and NYU is in the trendiest part of the biggest city in the US. It’s not hard to fathom spending two years in those cities, especially for applicants are already from big cities.

  • JohnAByrne

    I’d agree with RealSimple here. LA and NYC are big draws. It gives a brand name school huge advantages in the admissions game. As far as I know, these schools aren’t leaders in scholarship funding, so that is certainly not a factor.

  • It’s Whatever

    But then when did NYU and UCLA applications go down if people want to be in these areas? The numbers are contradicting this.

  • DanPoston

    Viewed in the short term, MBA applications are up among top 50 schools, but if you take a
    longer view, applications to top 50 schools have dropped drastically. If you look at full time MBA application numbers 5 years back and 10 years back, only the top tier schools have maintained flat or slightly rising applicant pools. Even that group has not seen significant increases despite increases in GMAT test-taker volume and the trend to consider the GRE. This long term downward slide has gone largely unnoticed. The overwhelming reason for the decline in full time applicants is not online programs or collapsing interest
    in the MBA degree. It is the steady rise in part time MBA programs, both in number and in quality. This issue never comes up in treatises on the future of the MBA. It is as if this whole segment of the market doesn’t exist. Most media discussion focuses on criticisms,needed changes, omissions, new focuses, or the impending decline of full time
    MBA programs. It is as if all discussion of the auto industry focused only on full size sedans and most debate on the future of the auto industry focused on the future of the premium sedans from Lexus, Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Lincoln. In fact, most MBA graduates in the workforce are now graduates of part time MBA programs including online, on-site, hybrid, executive, specialized, and modular formats. I am a full time MBA graduate. I believe the full time MBA experience is terrific. It may still be the best possible MBA experience. However, tapping my auto analogy, many of us might love the experience of driving a Lincoln Town Car but we don’t because it doesn’t meet our practical needs and doesn’t warrant that much debt. Amazingly, there are corporate recruiters who continue to believe the only MBAs that matter are graduates of full time
    programs. This view by any recruiter ignores what is now the far larger pool of MBA talent. The notion part time students are less talented than full time students, if ever true, is certainly no longer true. To recruiters who think part time MBA programs are less discerning in admissions, I say “What do you think is happening to some full time programs as talent from the hottest industry sectors opts out and the size of the overall pool shrinks, especially for domestic candidates?” Some of my most talented MBA candidates in fast-moving sectors like high tech, software, telecom, and healthcare believe that stepping out of the industry for two years for a full time program will leave them dangerously behind and out of touch. These people see great value in the MBA, but not if it costs two years away from the action. With applicant numbers for many full time programs outside the top tier now at half or one-third of where they were 10 years ago, programs have downsized and many will probably close in time. This is not the death knell for the MBA, but as in the auto industry example, this reflects the success of MBA models better adapted to needs and preferences of growing segments of the market.

  • RealAssetsFTW

    Just my opinion, but there is already an oversupply of MBAs. A MBA from even a regional school USED to guarantee a higher paying job and more responsibility after graduation. Currently (as most people on this site would probably agree with) the climate is much different. The top 20 or so schools are positive NPV while the tiers below that generally don’t provide you with much more than a commoditized piece of paper. In addition, some people even find it harder to get a job with an MBA from a lower tier program because at that point you may be “overqualified” for entry-level positions and not experienced enough for upper level positions. That being said, there will always be demand for business skills and MBAs, just make sure you go to a recognized program. Hope that helps!

  • SelfSelect

    Pretty much what It’sRealSimple said regarding Georgetown. Admit rate is high but it is a self selective group of applicants. -Usually they apply to Ivies/Chicago/NYU and then Georgetown as a backup. Though admission rate is higher, the GMAT and GPA is comparable to other top 15-20 schools. Georgetown is also in the trendiest part of a growing and prosperous capital city – attracting highly ambitious, cosmopolitan and smart(but just not smart enough for Ivies). That body of student is worth a second look.

  • Lucas001

    Business schools need to be more academic in focus. Full-time programs tend to attract loud, shallow, self-promotional types that are incapable of introspection. If you look at the type of student who goes to and succeeds in law school or medical school- you will see a lot more academically-studious, hard-working and intellectual student. I went to ivies for undergrad and grad, and the difference between law and b-school students was vast. That said, some b-school people have fun personalities, like the CBS follies kids, but most are rather insufferable (disclosure: I have a so-called top MBA and graduated in 2012, still enjoy the site and Mr. Byrne’s writing).

  • MM

    Unfortunately, these are the traits that most corporations reward – it’s not only banking and consulting – and b-schools just select people who will be successful in these environments.
    Just out of curiosity – why did you do an MBA, and did your expectations clash with reality? Do you think it was a waste of time?

  • Herrimea

    I guess you went to a PhD program?! drink a lot of water to keep hydrated>>

  • mcintiregrad09

    I’m also curious. I went to visit the campus and this year’s job placement looked extremely strong as well. If Cornell Johnson focused only on high GMAT scores like Stern does, it would rise in rankings for sure. But I had a candid conversation with the Dean of Admissions and she said that the school really values the overall package of individuals and not just focused on high GMATs.

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