The most selective business school in the U.S. has long been Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business which only admitted 6.1% of its applicant pool last year. Harvard Business School, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and MIT Sloan come next, all accepting less than 15% of the candidates to their prestigious MBA programs.
Now Harvard, Berkeley and MIT might very well move over, ceding the next-lowest acceptance rate to Stanford to a surprising newcomer in the selectivity sweepstakes: Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.
When the final application deadline to its full-time MBA program closes on June 1st, the school could very well have 1,270 applicants for a maximum of 120 seats. That would be more than triple the 443 applications the school received a year ago when the acceptance rate to the MBA program was 31.4%.The increase could drive down Carey’s acceptance rate this year to a record low—below Harvard’s 10.7%, Haas’ 13.0%, or Sloan’s 14.6%.
It’s possible that Carey would have achieved the distinction of becoming the most selective full-time MBA program in the U.S. if not for discouraging many potential applicants who would not have been competitive in the pool. The staff says it spent hours on the phone and online with prospective students who hadn’t taken the GMAT or the GRE or didn’t understand that they would have to quit their jobs to attend the full-time MBA program.
It’s not the warm weather in Tempe, Arizona, that’s driving the boom in applications. It’s the fact that last October the school announced that it would make its MBA program free. In fact, the school’s decision to make its full-time MBA program, which had carried a pricetag of $54,000 for in-state residents, $87,000 for non-residents and $90,000 for international students, led to an application surge of bargain hunters that overwhelmed Carey’s admissions office.
“Obviously, I knew we were going to get more applications but I don’t think any of us would have predicted this volume,” says W. P. Carey Dean Amy Hillman. “We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that people who weren’t going to be competitive would not apply just for the sake of an application. This is not an easy program to get into so we didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.”
While acceptance rates are a function of both volume and yield–the percentage of admits who actually enroll–it’s not possible to say with total confidence what the school’s final acceptance rate might be until after Carey sends out invites and gets a “yes” from its admits. But if its yield rate is extremely high–a very strong likelihood given the free MBA offer–the school’s acceptance rate could be below 10%. Hillman suspects yield to be high, but is still uncertain about that. “We have a lovely compelling offer of a full tuition scholarship but there are business schools that will do a full scholarship plus an allowance,” she says. “So we could lose some candidates who get better offers elsewhere. There is a lot in motion until August.”
As of April 4th, the school had received 1,165 applications. The final round, ending June 1, typically draws less than 10% of the applicant pool. “It’s usually all domestic students,” explains Hillman. “But what has been interesting is we tend to get some good domestic applicants who were trying to get into the elites and couldn’t.” Hillman says it’s possible that the free MBA offer and the attention it is getting could bring far more applications than the 7% to 9% who typically apply in the last round. “But it’s hard to know becuase it has largely been a domestic population in the past and the scholarship offer might be enough enticement to get more international applicants.”