B-Schools With the Most Applicants

Which business schools get the most attention from applicants?

Yesterday’s report by the Graduate Management Admission Council on declining applications for full-time MBA programs in the U.S. certainly makes the question topical. As applicants begin drafting application essays, admission officials are preparing for the onslaught in the early fall. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Harvard will be getting ready for the largest single chunk. It gets more applications from would-be MBAs than any other school in the world and that’s been the case for a very long time. Part of that is a function of the large number of seats open in every class–910–and also because of the school’s quality and reputation.

With 9,524 applicants for a seat in the entering Class of 2012, Harvard remains at the very top of our list of the 20 schools that get the most applications. Even though Stanford trails Harvard in applications by nearly 2,000, however, it remains the most selective business school in the world, saying yes to just 6.5% of those who apply. The dropoff occurs fast and furious in this list, with No. 20  Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business attracting 1,729 applicants.

How many people actually apply in a typical MBA season? GMAC reported that as of June 30, the cutoff date of its study, 476 MBA programs had received a total of 196,032 completed applications, though many schools had not yet reached their application deadlines. The number of applications per program varied greatly, ranging from fewer than 10 to nearly 10,000. GMAC also said that first-tier programs, those in the top 50, receive a median of 1,554 applications. Schools in the second-tier, the next 50, got less than a third of that, 405 applications per program, while all the remaining schools had a median of just 147 applicants.

In picking over the applicant pool for the incoming students of the Class of 2012, the schools that saw the largest increases in applications were Washington University’s Olin School, up 26%; Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, up 21%; MIT’s Sloan School, up 16%; Chicago’s Booth School, up 10%, and Harvard, up 5%. On the other side of the ledger, schools that saw their application volumes fall for the incoming class include Cornell’s Johnson School, down 12%; Berkeley’s Haas School, down 11%, and Wharton, down 9%. Many other schools have yet to officially announce these numbers.

Many schools that experienced declines, however, were coming off near-record years so that competition is still severe. Consider the Haas School of Business. In the past five years, even including the 11% fall for the latest year, applications rose an average of 11% per year, from 2,170 in 2005 to 3,626 this year for just 240 seats. During the five-year period, Haas went from accepting 23.1% of applicants in 2005 to accepting just 11.6% this year. In 2009, when 4,064 applications flowed into Haas, was the second best year on record, beating the earlier peak seven years ago.

So why did applications fall at all? Dean Rich Lyons suggests two reasons: a page-one story in The New York Times last November–a crucial time for application flow–that explored the severe and worsening fiscal woes of California’s public university system and the difficulty of international applicants to get loans to finance their MBAs during the financial crisis. Though furloughs have been imposed on faculty and staff at Haas, the crisis has had virtually no impact at all on MBAs because the school is essentially self-funded. The latter issue involving MBA loans led to a decline in incoming international students last year–just 32%–but it’s now resolved with 39% of this year’s incoming MBAs  from outside the U.S.

Or consider Dartmouth’s Tuck School. Applications at Tuck were down 8% this year, to 2,573 from 2,804 in 2009. Yet, the average GMAT scores for the incoming class are the highest in the school’s history, 716, up from 712 a year earlier, while the school also hit new records in the percentage of women (35%) and minorities (20%), and increased the representation of  international students to 33%, from 30% the year earlier. Tuck’s yield–the percentage of accepted applicants who agree to come to the school–increased by six percentage points.

At Kellogg, applications were up ever so slightly, by 42 applicants, from 5,545 to 5,587, a sum that includes 5,025 applicants for the school’s two-year MBA program, 325 for its accelerated one-year MBA program, and 241 applicants for its MMM program in which students get both the MBA from Kellogg and a Master of Engineering Management from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

After reaching a cyclical peak in 2008, GMAC said yesterday that full-time MBA programs continued on a downward cycle this year, the first signs of which were seen in the recession-plagued 2009. So far this year, more programs reported a downward (49%) compared to an upward (41%) trend in application volume, and the average number of applications per full-time two-year MBA program marginally declined by two percent.

Business SchoolApplicationsSeats Available
1. Harvard Business School9,524*910
2. Stanford7,536385
3. Columbia6,885740
4. Pennsylvania (Wharton)6,819*860
5, Northwestern (Kellogg)5,587*635
6. MIT (Sloan)4,782*400
7. New York (Stern)4,625370
8. Chicago (Booth)3,843590
9. Berkeley (Haas)3,626*240
10. Duke (Fuqua)3,506*450
11. UCLA (Anderson)3,041360
12. Dartmouth (Tuck)2,573*260
13. Yale2,790225
14. Michigan (Ross)2,697500
15. Virginia (Darden)2,689310
16. Texas-Austin (McCombs)2,284260
17. USC (Marshall)2,224220
18. Cornell (Johnson)2,002*275
19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler)1,873300
20. Georgetown (McDonough)1,729250

An asterisk indicates that the number applies for the full-time Class of 2012 entering this fall. All other numbers are for the previous year.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.