What B-School Applicants Want

Raining Money

Want to grab attention? Just add “dead” to any statement. “Fashion is dead.” “Microsoft is dead.” “God is dead.” In a supposed postmodern world, such epithets express an abrupt finality to the established order. Too bad the truth is more complex and ambiguous.

Take “banking is dead.” You might assume the financial collapse inspired this sentiment. In the abstract, big banks face a larger existential threat: Millennials. Forget dog-eat-dog hierarchies and 80-hour work weeks. Millennials are pursuing balance, collaboration, and socially-conscious endeavors. Think purpose, not pinstripes.

But truth has a funny way of undercutting a good headline. In reality, Millennials are increasingly flocking to banks. Maybe this is change by other means. Or, perhaps Millennials are no different than the baby boomers and busters before them, who sought wealth and renown amid the cycles and bubbles. Either way, according to a new study by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 39% of Millennials who are considering business school plan to work in banking and investment banking. And another 10% hoped to go into venture capital.

In other words, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan should have no problem finding ambitious MBAs to fill their ranks for years to come.


Kiki Keating

Kiki Keating

Kiki Keating, founder of KikiNetwork, a consulting firm which organizes conferences and provides rankings strategy for business schools, can understand why banking still attracts socially conscious Millennials. “There has been a push at most business schools to teach more about ethics,” she tells Poets&Quants. “I think MBAs now [who] are graduating are realizing that as long as they are taking care of the things that led to a financial crisis, there is still a great opportunity to make a lot of money and have a great career in that industry. And schools have done a good job of showcasing how to avoid those problems in the future.”

Banking’s continuing popularity among Millennials isn’t the only unexpected finding in GMAC’s 2015 Prospective Students Survey (April 6th).  The survey is based on responses from nearly 12,000 potential graduate business students. These students, who registered on GMAC’s website in 2014, were part of a random sample collected monthly. Overall, Millennials (born from 1980 to 1998) compromised 88% of the sample. Geographically, 30% of respondents were from the United States,  followed by Asia Pacific (23.5%), Central and South Asia (18%), Europe (12.5%), and the Middle East and Africa (8.5%). Gender-wise, the sample was relatively even, with 52.6% of respondents being men.

Despite banking’s high starting salaries and prestige, consulting still attracts more Millennials. In the survey, 41% of Millennials intended to pursue careers in consulting services or management consulting. Finance and insurance and accounting represented the third largest bloc to this generation at 31% combined.

Consulting also appealed heavily to Generation X respondents (born from 1965-1980), with 27% planning to enter the field after earning a graduate business degree. In fact, there were only two percentage points separating Gen X’s third career choice from its tenth choice, reflecting this generation’s wide range of interests and skills. Like Gen-X, baby boomers hoped to use their degree to enhance their prospects or transition to a new career in educational services or consulting. Boomers also tended to take the road less traveled, particularly in being the only generation represented among nonprofits (11%).

Target Industries For Employment

Source: 2015 GMAC Prospective Students Survey

Source: 2015 GMAC Prospective Students Survey


So what is driving each generation to graduate school? Despite thirty or more years separating Millennials and Baby Boomers, they act off remarkably similar motivations. Notably, increased job opportunities are spurring respondents from both generations to pursue graduate business degrees. The opposite is seemingly true for Gen-X, often caricatured as beaten down and forgotten. With this generation, increasing job opportunities and developing KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) were strangely absent from GMAC’s survey altogether.

Not surprisingly, Millennials – who are now experiencing life milestones like marriage, child birth, and home ownership – also prioritized salary potential (at over 60%). In addition, Millennials were motivated by developing KSAs, accelerating their career, and developing leadership skills. What is low on Millennials’ priority list? Ironically, that would be what they are popularly known for pursuing: community impact and solving the world’s problems. Millennials also ranked gaining respect and influencing people low, indicating a naiveté about organizational politics.

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