When MBA Apps Hit Their Peak

Foster School of Business at the University of Washington

WHAT ABOUT SCHOOLS THAT ARE NOT IN THE TOP 25 OF U.S. MBA PROGRAMS?

As is often the case, schools that don’t make the Top 25 list or just miss it have some of the more interesting stats of all. Consider Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. Carey decided to offer full scholarships to every admitted student to its MBA program. The result was an absolute explosion in applications to its full-time MBA program a year ago when apps surged to a record 1159 for the Class of 2018, up from only 443 the year before.

But in the second admissions cycle for the full scholarship offer, things settled down to 633 applications. On a five-year basis, Carey can still boast an impressive 65.3% jump in candidates from 383 for the Class of 2014. But the latest year-over-year decline is almost as staggering as the unprecedented surge a year ago.

What about the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business, which recently reversed a decision to suspend admissions into its full-time MBA program after outraged students and alumni mounted significant opposition to the move? In the past five years, applications were up by a healthy 26.6% at Wisconsin to 548 candidates for the Class of 2019, from just 433 applicants for the Class of 2012. But as one would expect, applications are way down from the peak for the Class of 2004 when the school had 1,123 candidates for its MBA program.

AFTER A DECLINE, OHIO STATE IS IN THE PROCESS OF REINVENTING ITS FULL-TIME MBA PROGRAM

Still, the five-year trend at Wisconsin was strong and the peak year reflected all those would-be MBA students who were scurrying to find a place to hide from a recession and a stock market crash. Over at another Big Ten school, Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business, the five-year trend isn’t as positive with apps down 12.3% to 444 for the latest entering class and well off the peak of 1,000 for the Class of 2013. Yet the faculty is eagerly remaking its MBA program with encouragement from a dean who has urged professors to literally take out a blank sheet of paper and reinvent the program.

The further you go down the list of schools, the more likely you’ll see declines in MBA applications over the past five years along with fewer peaks in the latest admissions cycle. That’s largely a function of the flight to quality, rankings-fueled competition, and a slight decline in interest in two-year, full-time residential MBA programs.

Bet there are more than a few deans these days hoping for a good old recession to bring those application volumes back up to record levels.