Where MBA Apps Are Way Up — And Down

Along with Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, the University of Chicago’s Booth School reported the highest percentage increase in MBA applications in 2016-2017, a 13.5% jump

While MBA applications to U.S. programs have fallen for the third consecutive year, a large number of the prestige business schools are doing just fine, thank you.

At least 16 of the top 25 U.S. schools are reporting application increases in 2016-2017, with four programs showing double-digit rises in the number of candidates wanting a seat in their MBA classes. At both the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, applications rose 13.5% last year.

Applications to Yale University’s School of Management were up by 12.3%, while Columbia Business School saw an impressive 11.8% jump in MBA applicants.


Many other highly selective schools also reported healthy increases. Candidates seeking a seat in this year’s incoming class of MBAs at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business rose 8.4%, while applicants to Rice University’s Jones School increased by 6.4%. Applications to Harvard Business School’s MBA program rose by 6% this past year to top the 10,000-mark for the first time since 2002 when just 31 more candidates applied. At the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, applicants jumped by a whopping 24.9% to 1,998, from 1,600 a year earlier.

But it wasn’t all good news, of course. Of the 23 schools in the top 25 that have reported application volume, seven schools are down. Three of them suffered double-digit application drops: Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. Also down were Georgetown’s McDonough School, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, though Tuck apps slipped by merely half a percentage point.

The steepest decline of any reporting top 25 school occurred at Kelley where applications fell by 18.6% to 1,247 from 1,532 a year earlier. Admission directors at U.S. business schools with application declines attribute the drops to the “Trump effect.” Anti-immigration political rhetoric has scared off many international candidates from applying to U.S. programs, particularly those that are not as highly ranked.

An application report released today (Sept. 18) by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that smaller MBA programs in the U.S. generally reported declines in candidate volume. “A strong economy and a disruptive political climate is likely contributing to the downward trend in application volumes among smaller U.S. programs this year.” explains Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and CEO, in a statement accompanying the report.


Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

At Georgetown’s McDonough School, for example, international candidates fell to just 32% of the applicant pool from 43% a year earlier. At Cornell’s Johnson School, the international applicant pool fell to 57% of the total number of applicants, down from 61% in 2015-2016.

Many schools outside Poets&Quants’ Top 25 are reporting even greater declines in international applicant pools. At Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School, international applicants fell to 49% of the pool, down from 62%. At the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, international candidates made up 46% of the past year’s pool, down from 51%.

One beneficiary of the Trump scare are non-U.S. schools with pro-immigration policies. At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School, MBA applications were up by 27%, more than any of the top 25 U.S. business schools.

Programs in Europe and Canada, in fact, were about twice as likely to report growth in international applicants compared with the U.S., according to GMAC. Across all program types, just 32% of U.S. programs report growing international application volumes in 2017 vs. 49% in 2016. Conversely, 76% of Canadian programs report increases in international applications (46% in 2016), as well as 67% of European programs (65%in 2016). Despite the Brexit vote, about two-thirds of programs in the United Kingdom have seen international demand grow.


Despite the general downward trend, candidates to the most highly selective schools will find that it’s still difficult to get into a top MBA program. Increasing application volume drives down acceptance rates unless a school decides to enroll a larger class. Generally, in fact, application increases tend to lead to higher average GMAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages as well.

At Yale’s School of Management, for example, the increase in applications shaved two percentage points off its acceptance rate which fell to 17% this year, down from 19% a year earlier. Yale has more candidates per available seat in the classroom than even Harvard Business School, 11.8 vs. HBS’ 11.0. The application increase, more importantly, have allow the school to substantially increase its average GMAT and GRE scores, grade point averages, and the caliber of undergraduate institutions on the resumes of its incoming classes. This year’s incoming class boasts the highest average GMAT and GPA ever recorded at Yale, 727, up two points over last year, and 3.67, vs. 3.63, respectively.

At Chicago Booth, this year’s incoming class boasted a ten-point increase in the median GMAT score to 740 from 730. The average GMAT score at Booth rose by three points to 730 for this year’s class, up from 727 last year. Booth’s median GMAT is now ten points above the 730 median at Harvard Business School. The median GPA for Chicago’s new class also rose to 3.65 from 3.61 a year ago.

(See following page for application volume numbers at Top 25 U.S. schools)

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