Why U.S. B-Schools Need Chinese Students

The vast majority (73%) of Chinese students sent their GMAT score reports to non-MBA master’s programs

Chinese students have become so vital to the financial health of U.S. business schools, says Rahul Choudaha, co-founder of data analytics website DrEducation, that many schools are tailoring their specialized master’s programs to help better acculturate students who otherwise tend to struggle in B-schools’ heightened learning atmosphere.

Choudaha found a compelling story woven into statistics from the Graduate Management Admission Council on Chinese student takers of the Graduate Management Admission Test. It began with the scale of growth in the numbers of students who are already in the U.S. and opting to take the GMAT, and culminated in concern for the financial health of B-schools should cultural obstacles prevent successful outcomes for those students, particularly in light of there fact that the majority of them are women.

“Without China, many business schools in the U.S. would have been in trouble in terms of meeting their enrollment goals,” Choudaha says. “China is too important and too big for business schools to ignore.”


Rahul Choudaha

Between 2012 and 2016, Choudaha found, the total number of Chinese citizens taking the GMAT increased by 22% to reach 70,744. During that time frame, the growth for Chinese test-takers residing in China grew at a slower pace, 13%, to reach 50,465 test-takers; the difference, 20,279, represents the number of Chinese GMAT test takers from overseas. That population grew by 48% in the same five-year period.

But even amid that growth, it was clear that Chinese students are largely entering graduate school directly from undergraduate programs; the mean age of Chinese citizens reporting GMAT scores is 23.1 years, as compared to the 26.5 years of U.S. students. That means a lack of experience often hinders their education, Choudaha says, in addition to other long-known challenges: social barriers, campus integration, and career development issues. All together, these can lead to a host of negative short- and long-term outcomes.

“One thing that really struck me in this analysis was the dramatic growth of Chinese students who are already in the U.S. and taking the GMAT test by transitioning from their undergraduate program to a master’s degree,” Choudaha tells Poets&Quants. “The scale of it seemed quite compelling to me. They are going into master’s programs but since they are having so little experience, it shows a very different climate and engagement in the classroom, because as we know most of the business school experience is about interacting, negotiating, participating.

“The inexperience of these students can create a negative word-of-mouth, and hence impact future enrollment and admissions trends.”


One out of every five international students in the U.S. is enrolled in a business/management program, according to data published last year by the International Institute of Education, a number that increased by 36% between 2010 and 2015 (145,514 to 197,258). The top three countries of origin are China, India, and South Korea, and intuit time frame their share among all international students in business programs grew from 41% (59,329) to 53% (105,429) — growth driven by China, which grew by 160%, from 31,014 to 80,571, compared to an 11% and 13% decline for India and South Korea, respectively.

“In contrast to India,” Choudaha writes at DrEducation, “the majority of Chinese students in business/management programs are in bachelor’s-level degree programs (60%). Higher demand from China for longer-duration bachelor’s programs (four years), the total enrollment (stock) of Chinese students is higher than that for Indian students. I would estimate the total intake of new MBA students from China would be in the range of 8,000-10,000.”

Simply in terms of the more than 70,000 Chinese students who have taken the GMAT in the last five years — compared to, say, the 83,000 U.S. students — U.S. B-schools have “a strong dependency on China,” Choudaha says.


But if there are only 10,000 Chinese students in MBA programs, where are the rest going? The vast majority — 73% — sent their GMAT score reports to one-year specialized master’s programs in such fields as data analytics, quantitative analysis, supply chain management and finance, Choudaha says (see our directory of specialized master’s programs). Unlike highly ranked MBA programs, specialty masters rarely require work experience. Only 19.3% of U.S. citizens who took the GMAT sent their reports to similar programs.

“In the data is imbedded a little bit of a preference for financial management and accounting-related programs, new programs which some business schools actually launched and expanded in response to this huge demand coming from China,” Choudaha says. “And some of these programs even have 60%, 70%, 80% Chinese students. They are typically one-year, 16- to 18-month programs, but they are not MBA programs.”

Schools, Choudaha says, have begun to tailor programs to the needs of this huge population of students. Those that haven’t yet done so, soon will likely feel compelled, he says.

“They have to have a very intentional approach to work with the students,” he says, “because thus far they have been getting a stream of Chinese students coming in, but if they have these negative experiences this can really hurt. It’s not sustainable.”

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