What Drives Chinese, Indian MBA Candidates?

GMAC’s study of Chinese, Indian, and U.S. MBA candidates found the motivations of potential Chinese students diverged from those of Indians and Americans

Used to be, prospective MBA students approached their school or schools of choice, hat in hand (metaphorically speaking), and made their best case for admission. But all things change, and according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, recent research shows that the dynamic between potential applicants and business schools has evolved to become a more mutual selection process. The reality is, the present-day business school landscape is one of mutual need — and benefit.

GMAC’s research into what it calls “the art and science of admissions” is premised on the view that better understanding MBA candidates’ motivations will allow schools to tailor their product to potential students, be they local or international. The research led to a report this summer that outlined the segmentation of the global graduate management education (GME) candidate population based on those candidates’ core motivations, resulting in seven well-defined global candidate segments: Respect Seekers, Global Strivers, Balanced Careerists, Career Revitalizers, Socio-Economic Climbers, Skill Upgraders, and Impactful Innovators.

GMAC’s report Beyond Demographics: Connecting With the Core Motivations of Business School Candidates was massive, with polls done in 15 countries — all in local languages, to “remove the bias that comes out of language,” GMAC President and CEO Sangeet Chowfla says. This month, building off that mountain of research, GMAC followed with a deeper dive into what motivates GME aspirants from three of the biggest B-school feeder nations: China, India, and the U.S. What it found is that Indian and U.S. students’ motivations are quite similar, the majority being made up of Global Strivers and Respect Seekers, with some Skill Upgraders and Impactful Innovators making up big blocs; while in China, the chief candidate segment is Career Revitalizers.


Sangeet Chowfla

GMAC found that Chinese business school candidates overall place relatively more importance on personal development, such as learning new things and keeping up with change. Chinese candidates are more likely to be motivated to attend a school, GMAC’s report says, if it has modern facilities and offers a good student experience; more Chinese applicants apply to a GME program because they lack the skills necessary to apply for a desired job. Only 19% apply to B-school before entering the workforce; globally, that figure is 36%.

Career Revitalizers are the dominant candidate segment in China, making up nearly half of candidates (49%), GMAC found. The next-largest segment, Respect Seekers, includes about 1 in 4 Chinese candidates (24%), with the remaining candidates split among Skill Upgraders (10%), Impactful Innovators (7%), Global Strivers (4%), Balanced Careerists (3%), and Socio-Economic Climbers (3%).

“The findings from China are very clear,” Chowfla says. “If you compare the Chinese GME population to the global sample of candidates, two segments dominate, making up 73% of the market: Career Revitalizers with 49% of candidates, compared to 13% globally, and Respect Seekers with 24% in line with a global average of 27%. … For programs seeking to attract more students from China, they may be particularly interested in assessing how they present their program offerings to seasoned professionals looking to advance their careers.”

There are other ways in which Chinese GME seekers differ compared with the global GME market: more B-school candidates in China have an undergraduate degree in business or management (59% versus 43% globally) and work in manufacturing (24% versus 11% globally); they are older on average (32.0 years old versus 31.1 globally), and they are more likely to have parents who did not complete a postsecondary degree (52% versus 32%).

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