Getting into a Top Ten MBA program in the U.S. last year was slightly harder than it was only a year earlier. An analysis of acceptance rates at leading business schools showed that Top Ten schools admitted just 15.6% of their applicants last year, the lowest level in at least four years. A year earlier, Top Ten schools accepted 16.4% of their applicant pools, while in 2012, they admitted 17.0% (see table below).
So while many business school deans view the two-year, full-time MBA market as mature and applications to those programs have fallen in recent years, the top-tier of the market remains as competitive as ever. In fact, applications to the Top 25 schools also were up by 2.5% to 84,879, at least the third consecutive year of increases. A year earlier, applications to the Top 25 MBA programs in the U.S. totaled 82,794, while they were 81,153 in 2013. Those increases drove the overall acceptance rate of the schools in the Top 25 down to 20.3% last year, from 20.7% a year earlier.
While numbers of the just-completed year are not yet in, some schools have reported healthy increases in the 2015-2016 academic, making another improved year likely. MIT’s Sloan School of Management leads the pack with a 35% jump in applications, followed by a 12% rise at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, a 6% increase at Yale’s School of Management, and a 5% rise at Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
AT THE TOP OF THE ‘FROWN INDEX’ IS HARVARD, STANFORD & WHARTON
The bottom line: The most highly selective MBA programs remain extremely difficult to get into. That’s especially frustrating news for self-selecting applicants because admission officials concede that as much as 80% of their applicants are fully qualified to attend and successfully complete an MBA program. At the top of the most selective list remains Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, which turned down a remarkable 93.9% of the candidates who applied for admission. Stanford was able to lower its acceptance rate a full percentage point to just 6.1%. Harvard Business School was next, rejecting 89.3%, while UC-Berkeley’s Haas School turned away 87.0% of those who applied.
There’s another way to look at selectivity, of course, tracking the numbers of people who received “deny” letters from schools. Call it the “frown index.” Harvard leads all schools in dishing out the most disappointment due to the size of its applicant pool which was 9,686-strong last year. HBS put frowns on the faces of 8,653 applicants, followed by Stanford (7,414), Wharton (5,288), Columbia (4,781), MIT Sloan (3,631, and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (3,413).
Hefty increases in applications at a number of schools helped to make them far a bit more selective in the past year. Among the Top 25 U.S. programs, Michigan’s Ross School reduced its acceptance rate the most, shaving off 7.6 percentage points to get to 28.3%. The Kenan-Flagler Business School brought its acceptance levels down five full percentage points to 33.8%, while Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business knocked 4.1 percentage points off its acceptance rate which fell to 43.4%, still the highest for any Top 25 business school. Indiana’s Kelly School (down 3.9 points), Yale (3.0 points), Kellogg (2.6 points), and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business ( 2.o points) all became slightly more difficult to get an “admit” from.
FIVE FACTORS THAT ARE MAKING IT HARDER TO GET IN
The biggest improvements in acceptance rates, however, came in the second half of the Top 50 U.S. MBA programs. SMU’s Cox School dropped its acceptance rate by a whopping 12.9 percentage points to 35.9% from 49.0% a year earlier thanks to an increase in applications and better yield on its admits. Wisconsin Business School brought its acceptances down by 9.3 percentage points to just 20% from 29.3% as a result of a 69% jump in applications.
Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading MBa admissions consulting firm, sees five key factors to explain why it’s still so challenging to gain admission to a top program. For one thing, he notes, the supply of classroom seats is not expanding. “The number of top B-schools and the number of available seats at those schools remain relatively flat,” says Bauer. “If anything, we see the interest in second- and third-tier schools declining, which makes the top-tier programs even more compelling.”
Despite ever-escalating tuition bills, the return on investment for an MBA degree remains excellent. “Post-MBA hiring and compensation continue to grow, which encourages more applicants who want to capitalize on this opportunity as their golden ticket.
The Top Ten Business Schools
Source: P&Q analysis of publicly available data provided by schools to U.S. News