What Future MBAs Want & Where They’re Headed


Earth in the hand

If you’re thinking about an MBA, you probably aspire to something. At best, you carry a grander vision for yourself. You imagine a life where you have freedom, respect, and something to call your own. At worst, maybe you feel something is missing. You sense that you’ve fallen behind – and your career has grown stagnant and shaped by forces you can’t control.

Alas, earning an MBA is a huge step. Like everyone in this potential next wave of MBAs, you’ll ask yourself, do I really want to again study high school math for the GMAT? Am I ready to continuously revise my essays – only to be waitlisted or rejected? Can I swallow my pride, knowing my classmates may be smarter and faster than I am? Yes, business school is a humbling experience, where you pay tens-of-thousands of dollars to start back at square one. But numbers don’t lie, with MBAs earning a 39%-80% pay raise after graduation.

So who’s heading to business school? What’s driving their decisions? Are they looking to enroll for one year or two? Where do they ultimately want to work? And how do they plan to finance their educations?

These questions were posed to prospective GMAT test takers by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). The survey, which was conducted from 2012-2013 when respondents logged onto the GMAC site, measures the pulse of the next wave of MBAs. Recently, GMAC segmented the survey data into 23 American metropolitan areas (along with the United States, China, South Korea, and Taiwan as a whole).  And the data provided a fascinating look into what matters to incoming MBAs.

Take, for example, the top five reasons why prospective students are looking to enroll in an MBA program. Domestically, “Job Opportunities” and “Increase Salary” were almost universally ranked #1 or #2 across the various metros. In San Jose, the cradle of Silicon Valley, “Increase Salary” doesn’t even make the top five, with “Develop Business Skills,” “Job Opportunities,” “Accelerate Career Path,” “Develop Leadership Skills,” and “Develop Managerial Skills” all deemed more important than compensation.

Overseas, the difference is even more pronounced. While “Increase Salary” makes the top five in China, South Korea, and Taiwan, it ranks first in Taiwan. And “Job Opportunities” doesn’t even crack the list in South Korea. What’s more, “International Employment” and “Challenging Work” were cited as key reasons in these nations for pursuing an MBA. However, neither of these reasons appears in the top five in the top American metro markets.

The rise of the full-time, one-year MBA has grown evident across the United States. Among program choices, it ranked in the top five for the top ten metros, averaging 32% of interest by respondents overall (and as high as 40% in the Miami metro). As expected, a two-year MBA and a part-time MBA rank highest in the United States, at 42% and 41% respectively. And American GMAT test takers are less inclined to go for an online MBA, with 21% of respondents considering this option. In Asia, specialized Master’s programs, in areas like finance, accounting, and management, were actually preferred over part-time and flexible MBAs.

Domestically, the most appealing sectors to potential MBAs were “Finance and Accounting,” “Products and Services,” “Consulting,” and “Government and Non-Profit,” with growth sectors like “Technology” and “Healthcare” trailing well behind. These sectors also comprised the top six in China, though  “Manufacturing” ranked fourth in South Korea and tied for fifth in Taiwan. “Finance and Accounting” was the top choice for prospective MBAs in every country except Taiwan, where products and services topped the list. Taiwan also had the higher percentage of students looking to enter consulting than any other country surveyed.

When it comes to financing their educations, Chinese and Taiwanese students are expecting to rely on their parents at a 46% and 47% clip respectively. In both nations, personal earnings and savings were the fallback. In South Korea, that trend was inverted, with 33% expecting to pay with savings (and 21% through their parents). As expected, Americans relied heaviest on loans to pay for schooling, followed by personal savings, employer support, and grants.

To see how students responded to these questions in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle, check out GMAC’s infographics on the accompanying pages. Statistics for the United States, China, South Korea, and Taiwan are also included.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.