More than 25% of business school applicants are planning to apply to five schools this year, up from 22.9% that planned to apply to five schools last year, according to a new survey by Stacy Blackman Consulting, a business school admissions consulting firm. At the same time, 10.6% plan to apply to six schools, up from 9.8% last year. The median number of schools responding applicants intend to apply to is 4.4.
“There is a growing awareness of just how competitive B-school admissions are, and an understanding that there are more than one or two terrific schools for any given applicant,” says Stacy Blackman, founder and president of the firm that bears her name.“We find that more applicants are interested in applying to a wider range of schools than in years past.”
Blackman says that only a few years ago, some elite applicants held the view that if they couldn’t get into one of the top three schools, they wouldn’t go for an MBA. But that approach has given way to a more open attitude about where to study. Some of the combinations of schools targeted by her clients are much broader than the near ritualistic decision to apply to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.
LISTS OF TARGET SCHOOLS BY APPLICANTS HAVE BECOME LONGER AND BROADER
“The list of potential schools has become a lot longer and broader,” she says, noting that clients are choosing to target the business schools at UCLA, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina along with Harvard and Wharton. “Applicants are really very open across the spectrum.”
One reason for the change, she believes, has to do with how competitive MBA admissions has become at elite levels, along with the notion that an MBA from a still highly selective school affords all the benefits and value of one from the very top of the brand hierarchy. “It’s not a huge jump but people are definitely looking at more schools,” she says.
The survey, based on 675 respondents who intend to apply to business school in the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, also found that more candidates intend to take the Graduate Record Examination, that a school’s ranking is the number one criteria for school selection, and that the strength of a school’s job placement track record is assuming even greater importance than it had.
‘RANKINGS MATTER A LOT’ IN SCHOOL SELECTION
The results also found that business school rankings continue to play a major influence on school selection. “The one thing that always surprises me is the importance of the rankings,” says Blackman. “The rankings matter so much. Less than 1% said they weren’t important. Almost 70% said rankings were extremely important. Rankings matter a lot.”
Reputation–usually established in part by rankings–is still the most important factor influencing potential students’ decision to attend a particular B-school, though it showed a slight decline from 52.4% to 50.87% this year. The importance of the strength of job placement programs and outcomes, on the other hand, increased from 18.8% last year to 21.87% this year.
Career advancement continues to be the most important reason to attend business school, with 45.2 % ranking it as most important last year and 43.7% ranking it as most important this year, followed by 38.17% of respondents this year who were most motivated by a desire to change careers.
MORE PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS ARE TAKING THE GRE
The survey also found increased interest in the GRE, further confirming an earlier Poets&Quants’ report that the test is gaining on the GMAT. Interest in the GRE grew from 3.97% last year to 7.65% this year, while 92.37% plan to take the GMAT this year, compared to 96.3% last year, Blackman said.
“My basic recommendation is to take the GMAT because schools have been mostly looking at that over the years,” says Blackman. “But if you have a hard time testing in general or testing with the GMAT, I recommend taking the GRE. I am not pushing the GRE. I think adcoms prefer the GMAT. They may be accepting the GRE so maybe they don’t publicly say it. But they are more comfortable with the GMAT test in general.”
Interest in consulting careers post-business school continued with a slight decline from 38.1% last year to 37.72% this year, while interest in jobs in finance increased from 22.4% to 24.4% this year. Entrepreneurship captured 24.75% of career plans last year and 24.72% this year.
The survey was conducted via survey monkey between April 15, 2014 and April 24, 2014.