ASU’s New MBA Class Breaks All Records

Carey students in the new Focus Forward MBA program. Photo by W. Scott Mitchell

Carey students in the new Focus Forward MBA program. Photo by W. Scott Mitchell

It was only a year ago when Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business made the extraordinary decision to provide full scholarship support for every full-time MBA student accepted into the school. It was an unprecedented stroke, costing the university more than $10.5 million a year and sending shock waves through the business school community.

The results of that decision are now in and, as expected, Carey’s newest entering class has broken all kinds of records. The Class of 2018, which arrived on campus three weeks ago, is the best full-time MBA cohort the school has ever seen. The upshot: When U.S. News publishes its new ranking of MBA programs next year, Carey—which ranked 35th this year—could very well find itself among the Top 25 schools in the nation.

Applications to its full-time program exploded, rising by 162% to 1,160 from just 443 a year earlier. That’s nearly ten applicants for every available seat in the class. The school’s acceptance rate of just 14% now makes Carey the fourth most selective MBA program in the world behind only Stanford, Harvard and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Only a year earlier, Carey invited 31.4% of its applicants to attend.

Dangling a free MBA in front of applicants also predictably improved the school’s yield, the percentage of admits who enrolled at Carey. Yield improved by ten percentage points to 72% from 62% last year–a rate better than Wharton, MIT Sloan, or Duke Fuqua (see Yield Rates: Schools That Land The MBA Students They Really Want).


Dean Amy Hillman of ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business

Dean Amy Hillman of ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business

“The class exceeds all our expectations,” says Amy Hillman, dean of the Carey school. “We are especially pleased with the diversity of the class and that was one of our main objectives. So much of this was really about getting greater diversity in the class. It was less about getting a big bump in GPA (grade point average) or GMAT. Our team was really optimizing on diversity of interests and experiences and getting the classroom as interesting as possible. So we sacrificed on GPA and GMAT for that purpose.”

Even so, the class easily topped the school’s previous benchmarks in grades and standardized test scores. The entering class’ average undergraduate grade point average jumped to 3.54, from 3.37, a GPA bested by only a dozen business schools and equal to or better than MIT, Virginia, and Dartmouth. The average GMAT score rose ten points to 682, 25th best in the U.S., equal to or better than the business schools at USC, Emory, Notre Dame, and Boston University.

What’s more, the school was able to enroll a record number of women who represent 43% of the new class, up from 30% last year and equal to this year’s entering class at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Harvard Business School and just a percent off of Wharton’s leading percentage of 44%. Some 31% of the class is international, up from 29% a year earlier. And the average amount of work experience brought into the class by students is up more than a year to six years.


Carey’s international students, moreover, hail from 24 countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan, and Uganda. Last year’s class had students from only 11 countries, while the year before the class represented just eight nations. Carey was able to fill the class with MBA candidates from ten countries from which it had never drawn students, including Brazil, Ecuador, the Ukraine, and South Africa. “We were able to reach studuents from emerging nations to a far greater degree than we had in the past,” says Hillman. “We have people coming from Bolivia who never could have afforded to come to the U.S. for an MBA program of this caliber.”

Though underrepresented minorities fell two percentage points to 18% of the class, the total number of minority candidates increased to 21 out of 119 from 17 out of 86 students last year.

The full sense of diversity is more apparent, perhaps, on an individual basis. Zack Mardoc spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Madagascar, growing vegetables and digging latrines. Willy Chang was an organic chemist in the biotech industry. They are both members of the first tuition-free MBA cohort. “By removing the concerns of debt, they’ll attract a more diverse cohort and strengthen the school,” believes the 28-year-old Chang.

The school’s fully supported MBA offer also attracted students who could have gone to more highly ranked schools but instead chose Carey. “A young Latino woman who was given scholarships to NYU and Columbia decided to come into the program,” adds Hillman. “She’s a first-generation student whose parents own a couple of bodegas in the city. She was inspired to come to Carey because of the pay-it-forward part of the program.”

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