Why Trump’s Election Is Good For International Business Schools

President-elect Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump

With the election of the most globally controversial candidate ever to the American presidency, the communities of higher educational institutions across the U.S. are digesting the consequences, with many schools reporting high levels of angst amongst students.

Business school communities were largely pro-Clinton, with a survey of HBS students showing 85% supporting Clinton and just 3% supporting Trump. Following the shock election results, university leaders have been sending out unprecedented messages to their students, feeling the need to reiterate their commitment to a non-discriminatory community, and to offer additional counseling services to those distressed by the result. There have been many protests at educational institutions across the country, with students sharing photos on social media using the hashtag #notmypresident. Large protests have been reported in Berkeley, LA and Boston. Faculty have also weighed in with their concerns about what a Trump presidency will mean, with Michigan Ross professors slamming Trump’s policies on trade and energy.

Trump loves to boast about Wharton being his alma mater, but the atmosphere on election night at the school was funereal.  MBA student Ghassan Khara said he was not a U.S. citizen, but aspires to become one. The dawn of a Trump presidency is worrying for “people like me who want to call America home”. He comes from a half-Christian half-Muslim family, “so I don’t fit into either category. What does that mean for me? He’s talking about a ban of all Muslims, which is crazy.”


While Trump has made some wild and sweeping claims about his future immigration policy, implementation details are at best sketchy, and major restrictions on immigration may prove hard to pull off. However, the divisive rhetoric of the Trump campaign is likely to unsettle and ultimately deter many business school applicants. As one Colombian MBA student at Harvard Business School put it, “Previously I thought I might want to stay in the U.S. for a couple of years before returning to my native Colombia. With Mr. Trump as president I will most definitely return right after my MBA. A sad day in the history of mankind…”

International students make up just more than half of the applicant pool to U.S. business schools, and typically about a third of the actual class at the top MBA programs. A survey by National Public Radio in October found that 60% of prospective international college students planning to study abroad said that they would be less likely to study in the U.S. if Trump were elected (compared to 4% if Hillary had won). Concerns about immigration issues were cited as a key factor. Some 80% of Mexican students reported that they would be less likely to study in the U.S. under a Trump presidency.

Harvard Business School students, anonymously sharing reactions to Trump’s win in the student newspaper, thought it could change their career plans.  “Thinking about HBS’ mission, we as HBS MBAs have a choice as to where we want to make a difference in the world. Tonight has made me reconsider my commitment to bringing good jobs back to U.S. manufacturing centers. Why would I want to help people that don’t recognize the dignity of my friends and loved ones? Shouldn’t I try to improve outcomes in places that don’t apparently hate what I stand for?”


For international candidates applying to business school now, starting a two-year MBA program in the fall of 2017 means graduating in the summer of 2019, with at least 18 months of the Trump presidency remaining. That leaves great uncertainty for foreign nationals about their ability to stay in the U.S. (assuming muslim students are even allowed to enter the country to start an MBA program).

Canadian programs will be sure to benefit, given the increasingly stark difference between immigration policies of the U.S. versus Canada. European programs stand to gain also; GMAC data on MBA applicant trends has picked up on the growing attractiveness of the international one-year programs at INSEAD, HEC Paris, IE, Oxford and Cambridge, amongst others.  Despite Brexit and weaker economic growth in Europe versus the US, many candidates are now reassessing their options. At Fortuna Admissions, since Tuesday morning, we have repeatedly heard from candidates that they are turning their attention to non-U.S. schools.

One French-American candidate told me: “I was back in California to vote… but let’s just say that given the election result, I will be looking for an MBA abroad.” Parents are also likely to raise questions about where their offspring should study. We have heard from a brilliant young woman in India who is interviewing with top US business schools that since the election her parents have forbidden her to study in the U.S

INSEAD, in particular, may benefit, as a top ranked program (number 1 in the full-time global MBA ranking of The Financial Times) that enables candidates to hedge their geographical bets. Campuses are located in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and the graduating class disperses to take up jobs in over 50 countries each year; the school is therefore not dependent on a local recruitment market. Peter Zemsky, INSEAD’s Dean of Executive Education says, “as with the recent Brexit vote, the election of Trump in the U.S. is a powerful statement of growing nationalism.  INSEAD has always sought to serve as a platform for global understanding and bridge building; our mission is, sadly, more relevant than ever. We already have a significant number of students from the U.S. and we expect to reach out even more to that market given recent developments.” Ilian Mihov, dean of the school notes, “I think that not only from the U.S., but globally we may see an increase in applications to INSEAD as a result of the vote. Isolationism runs against the core values of INSEAD. We do not believe that creating barriers will lead to a better world.”

Trump in the White House gives non-U.S. schools a golden opportunity to attract some of the best and brightest international students who are no longer setting their sights on an MBA in the U.S., as well as American students who will see this as a perfect time to leave the country and ride out the potential storm for a couple years.

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director with Fortuna Admissions

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director with Fortuna Admissions

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a Co-Founder and Director of Fortuna Admissions. She was Director of Admissions, Marketing, and Financial Aid for the INSEAD MBA program from 2005 until 2012. She holds an MBA from INSEAD (2003) and is a graduate of the University of Cambridge


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