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Acceptance Rates At The Top 50 MBA Programs

When you look at a person’s chances of getting into a highly ranked MBA program these days, it’s pretty much a tale of two tiers. At the top 25 ranked U.S. business schools, it has become a greater challenge to get an admit. At the next 25 schools that fill out the top 5o list, it’s a bit easier.

Some 15 of the top 25 schools last year had lower acceptance rates than a year-earlier, with significantly tougher admission standards at MIT Sloan, Cornell Johnson, UC-Berkeley Haas, the University of Texas’ McCombs, and Duke Fuqua. Even among top 25 schools that saw fewer applicants, the declines were generally modest, with not a single school reporting a double-digit drop.

In that second group ranked 26th through 50th, however, only eight schools reported lower admits rates, with standards much higher at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School, Boston College’s Carroll, and Rochester University’s Simon School of Business. Half a dozen schools in this group reported double-digit plunges in their application volume.

INCREASING APPLICANTS TO TOP TEN SCHOOLS REFLECT A FLIGHT TO QUALITY

But if you have your heart set on a U.S. program ranked in the top ten, you faced tougher odds for sure: With more applicants vying for a seat last year, acceptance rates dropped to their lowest level in at least five years. At an admit rate of just 14.5%, in fact, it was the first time the overall admit rate for the top ten schools fell below 15%. Five years ago in 2012, the acceptance rate for a top ten program was 17.0%. The first-tier schools received 54,694 applications in the 2015-2016 year, up 4.4% over a year earlier when applications totaled 52,384 (see table below).

Some believe the increase can be attributed to efforts by many of the top schools to make applying less of an essay contest in recent years. “One element in rising application volume over the last several year is the time cost of applying,” says Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com. “As schools have simplified their applications and reduced the number of essays, they reduce the time investment required to apply. More people apply to more schools to increase their chances of acceptances, but basically it’s like a dog chasing its tail. Acceptance rates drop, applicants feel they have to apply more widely to hedge their bets, and acceptance rates drop further. At the end of they day only one student can occupy one chair in one school.

The numbers, too, reflect something of a flight to quality at the top end of the MBA market. “This is a tournament and the prize at the top is more highly desired than the price below it,” says David White of Menlo Coaching, an MBA admissions consulting firm. “But there is a fair amount of monkey business in the numbers.”

White cites the increase at MIT Sloan which occurred after the school decided to go with only one essay question, with a second required short-answer question if candidates moved forward to the interview stage. Sloan also used to close off its admissions cycle as early as Jan. 8, but extended it until April 11 in line with other peer schools. White believes those changes caused a number of applicants to add Sloan to their target lists because it was so easy to do so. “Most admissions directors would tell you that the core group of well-quallified applicants is mostly stable over time,” he adds.

APPS FELL AT COLUMBIA BUT SO DID THE SCHOOL’S ACCEPTANCE RATE

Only two full-time MBA programs among the top ten experienced application declines: Columbia Business School, where applicants fell 5.1% to 5,534, and Chicago Booth, where applications dropped by 3.9% to 4,117. Yet, oddly enough, it actually became more difficult to get a seat in both those schools as well. At Booth, admit rates fell slightly to 23.6% last year from 24.4% a year earlier. At Columbia, the drop was even greater: Nearly four percentage points. The acceptance rate fell to 14.1% from 18.0% a year earlier, a consequence of higher yield rates, most likely a greater number of early decision applicants who are technically bound to go to CBS if accepted.

Some admission consultants believe that Columbia was able to achieve a higher yield because it began allocating more cash to scholarship support. One consultant told Poets&Quants he was quite shocks that a candidate who received a full ride at NYU Stern with no scholarship offer from Columbia was able to go back to CBS this year and get a full ride from Columbia. “Another element improving Columbia’s yield is its January program,” adds Abraham. The option permits MBA students an accelerated version of the program. “That is a very attractive and distinctive option that CBS has been plugging more in the last couple of years.”

At some fairly prominent full-time MBA programs there were deep declines in application volume that are likely to reinforce the feeling that growth in two-year, residential MBA programs is pretty much over. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported that applications fell 35.4% last year, while Purdue University’s Krannert School saw a 29.5% plunge and UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business had a 20.3% drop off (see schools with biggest declines).

The Top Ten Business Schools: By The Numbers

It’s harder than ever to get into the full-time MBA program of a Top Ten U.S. business school. The acceptance rate last year fell to 14.5%, more than a full percentage point from the 15.6% rate a year earlier. It became more difficult because applications to the top ten programs rose by 4.4% to 54,694, vying for just 5,100 seats.

Data 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Acceptance Rate 14.5% 15.6% 16.4% 16.2% 17.0%
Applications 54,694 52,384 51,735 52,350 49,605
Admits 7,934 8,177 8,470 8,373 8,452
Enrolled 5,100 5,279 5,589 5,518 5,462
  • danpo

    Fantastic, thanks for those numbers!

    One more question if I may: do you have any ball park estimates for applicant demographics, i.e. the distribution of Americans vs. Europeans vs. Indians/East Asians vs. Africans (vs. others) among the applicant pool?

    I know there’s hardly any data regarding this, but I would assume that Americans and Indians/East Asians make up a disproportionately large section of the applicant pool, implying that the acceptance rate is even higher for Europeans (like me) and Africans.

  • danpo

    Thanks for your quick response, John. I agree that there are many subtleties that are hard to accurately capture in a single number. However, the calculated figure is not still misleading. Knowing

  • There is a sense that 20% to 25% of a school’s applicant pool is not really qualified to get into a school. And probably another 10% to 20% who fail to complete what you could call a serviceable application.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective. You are fright that a good portion of these applicants applied to more than a single school but other than an estimate, which would includes programs outside the top ten, it’s impossible to adjust the numbers accurately to reflect this fact. Also, many candidates do apply to
    A single school or just one top ten with other apps going to European or Asian schools.

  • danpo

    On a side note, I have always been curious how many “weak” applicants there might be. Does anyone have an educated guess? (“weak” meaning that they don’t really care or are *really* bad at execution in the sense that they are basically automatic dings, no matter what.)
    Also, is there any data regarding the applicants’ demographic?

  • danpo

    I love your insights and data, John, and this article is no exception. That being said, I think the table on the first page is flawed and the aggregate acceptance rate for top ten schools is way north of the 15-ish% the presented data suggests. Here’s why:

    In order to get a reliable estimate for the overall acceptance rate, you would have to know the DISTINCT number of applicants vs. the DISTINCT number of admits. Judging from the numbers, I assume that you summed up the number of applications and admits for each school, which, if true, seriously skews the calculated acceptance rate, because most applicants apply to several schools.

    If we assume that every applicant who received an offer from top ten schools also accepted their spot at some top ten school (i.e., the aggregate top ten schools’ yield rate is 100% or at least close), then the number of enrolled students is a fair estimate of the aggregate number of distinct admits. We could make a statistical argument to estimate the overall number of distinct applicants, but there are so many assumptions, I’m skeptical that the result would represent a fair estimate. Nevertheless, the number must be way lower than the 55,000 applications in 2016.

    Does anyone have a good (empirically backed) guess of how many applicants might participate in this MBA game?

  • M7Bound

    14% is great, but don’t forget that this is after practically forcing early entry candidates to enroll, and as a result turning away a lot of deserving candidates in the “regular” admissions cycle.

    Why not be like Tuck and allow students to make an informed choice even after the so-called “early entry” option? No faith in the strength of the program? I mean, if CBS is SO very prestigious and such a powerhouse, why not allow students to explore options and eventually come back if they feel like? You don’t need to be an expert to smell the insecurity from miles away.

  • M7Bound

    Honestly cracking up.

  • WP19

    As a FT admit at WP Carey, I’m excited for all the buzz!

  • WatchingCarefully

    You may well be right in terms of actual ranking place, that it will be hard to break top 10 for Cornell but they they just might, and certainly they could reach say #10 or #11 and from a practical standpoint be truly in the same tier as some of the top 10 imo. Cornell has much momentum that has the potential to convert over the next 2 to 3 years. I will keep watching. thx

  • realist

    I agree Johnson is making strong moves but not sure how likely it is for them to break top 10–they’ll have to leapfrog perennial powerhouses in Anderson, Darden, Stern, Fuqua, and Ross. I believe Yale was only able to crack top 10 by knocking down Darden back in 2015 through a combination of stats and home university prestige, and it’s a pretty much a fact that Cornell’s no Yale.

  • offtojog

    Isn’t SOM in the top 10? Not sure why that is an insult if it were true brah.

  • offtojog

    Explain how it is flawed. I argue that with the cost of the MBA rising across the board, potential applicants are deciding that they may as well pay for a high quality MBA than a low-quality one. Instead of dismissing a sound argument with your vague pronouncement, how about you make an effort to articulate why you disagree. I am not sure why you wanted to write this response.

  • You Will Never Be Accepted

    Are you seriously breathing? Someone as condescending as you shouldn’t be alive, let alone get an MBA.

  • WatchingCarefully

    Agreed on top 5 but Johnson is making strong and impressive moves. Very much playing for top ten in the coming years imo.

  • realist

    Johnson’s top 5 when pigs fly

  • MBA hopeful

    You seem to have no idea what you are talking about. Also, your English does not seem to be on the level to make any arguments. Are you really interested in MBA?

  • elitest

    the 14% admit rate includes the january class as well. columbia class size is the same but ton of people accepted in first and second round , so few admits later
    Columbia undergrad also saw lowest admit ever, lower than yale and princeton
    if you wanna learn business, its NYC or Silicon Valley – Stanford or Columbia – plain and simple

  • MBA hopeful

    I think these are the numbers just for the MBAs starting in August. There are around 200 more students who will join Columbia in January and will increase the class size to 700+. Someone correct me if I am wrong here.

  • confused

    Sorry in advance if this is a dumb question….but why did Columbia admit and enroll so many fewer students in 2016 vs last? Like the class size shrunk??

  • guest

    OfftoJog may have gone to SOM lol

  • MBA hopeful

    Well, this argument is flawed on so many levels that I am not even sure why you wanted to write this.

  • offtojog

    I think the flocking to Top 10 schools is not just the result of perceived quality. As the cost of pursuing an MBA continues to rise, more and more potential applicants will reason that the MBA at a top 10 is greater value than the MBA from a 15 – 50 school. Why take out a hundred thousand dollars in loans to attend state when you can go after an ivy or near-ivy?

  • MBA hopeful

    Thanks man, very helpful. My dream school for MBA is Yale, both HBS and Stanford will be for backup if I don’t get to the most prestigious Yale MBA program.

  • somsquared

    Replace “Harvard” with “Stanford” in your essays, vice versa.

  • MBA hopeful

    It’s always interesting to see that both Harvard and Stanford are super selective, but given their high yields it can be inferred that not many people end up being accepted to both schools simultaneously.

    I imagine there are some items in the application that Stanford looks for to make sure that the applicant’s first choice is not Harvard, and vice versa. Can anyone shed some light on how to prevent either of these schools to think that they are not your first choice?

  • elitest

    Columbia is very hard to beat – overall Ivy prestige – look at Columbia undergrad admit rate 5.8%, lower than Yale and Princeton.. !

  • Orange 1

    What is going on with NYU Stern? Didn’t they used to be around 16% admissions rate and at one time it was even lower than Columbia?

  • Laynes

    Amazing… out of the many bschool alums I have met, none have had more of an inferiority complex than those from SOM. Be happy SOM is at 10.

  • Laynes

    Yet SOM’s yield is 48% and Booth’s is 60%, so there’s definitely a perception difference in the value of the two programs.

  • Cornell_Squared

    Impressive jump by Cornell from 32% admitted to 27% admitted. I fully expect Cornell to break the sub-20% acceptance barrier next year as their profile goes up and up. They will likely be Top 10 if not Top 5 next year, potentially even jumping Booth and Kellogg who have acceptance higher than 20%.

  • Totally agree. And you can bet we will be closely following this for our readers.

  • MBA alum

    It will be very interesting to see how the applicant pool potentially further increases for ASU this year and moving forward. The new ASU full scholarship program for 100% of their class was announced in October 15, 2015 (which is considered somewhat late in the application process for prospective applicants in fall of 2015). Far more prospective applicants have become aware of this full scholarship program for the current and next year’s applicant cycles.

    If the size of ASU WP Carey full-time MBA applicant pool dramatically further increases, resulting in continued significant improvements in their average quality of admits (GPA, GMAT, work experience), then their ranking should continue to steadily climb accordingly. In turn, if these trends continue and ASU is able to climb to approach the 13th to 18th ranking level in line with the Michigan, UCLA, Texas MBA programs, then this one school potentially could be a game changer for the second tier MBA programs resources race against each other.
    I am guessing that if ASU does make significant ranking jump in the next two years, then you will find at least one or two other second tier MBA programs (especially if they have smaller enrolled class size like ASU), will announce a similar 100% scholarship strategy. The prestige of a top ranked MBA program can have very positive ripple effect for balance of the university and the university’s undergraduate business applications. At the Phoenix airport for the NCAA Basketball Final Four , ASU had their new business ranking plastered all over the place.
    Whatever your opinion of their scholarship strategy, there is no question that ASU’s MBA program will be fun to follow in coming years..

  • elitest

    Booth admit rate is 24%
    CBS admit rate is 14%

    thats 10 whole points WOW !

  • somsquared

    I choose to stick with the data. Booth’s acceptance rate > 20%, SOM’s is < 20%. Those are the facts. I know several people who chose SOM over Booth last cycle. They understand SOM's long-term play.

  • I’d agree with that assessment. HBS and GSB are almost the default prestige schools at the top of the list of every A-list applicant unless there are other factors that sway a top quality applicant elsewhere. That could be geography, strength in a discipline, alumni relationships, financial considerations, or an already existing mentorship with a professor.

  • Laynes

    Also, you go from discussion to discussion spouting off SOM bulls***. Bet you’re real fun at parties. If SOM didn’t focus on admitting candidates with relatively high GMATs, there wouldn’t be much keeping SOM in the top 15.

  • Laynes

    Have to remember that schools like Penn State and ASU are selecting from a pool of candidates with lower statistics overall. The standards of admission are lower. It may be more selective than say, Booth, but that doesn’t mean it is harder to get into than a top 10-15 school.

  • rahulbajpai.mba@gmail.com

    In my opinion, booth has a pretty tough application process, especially the blank sheet portion. Hence, students applying to Booth are pre-selected. In addition, I guess many applicants of HBS and GSB put Booth as a safe school which explains the high acceptance rate for Booth. Booth or any school for that matter of fact is likely to admit a candidate who is good enough for HBS or GSB.

  • somsquared

    how the heck is booth #3 with a >20% acceptance rate lol? Yale SOM and Booth should be switched

  • Wow

    Wow, penn state and Arizona state are more selective than some top 10 schools.