When MBA Apps Hit Their Peak

Foster School of Business at the University of Washington


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.


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.

  • MBA-Watch

    I think Cornell, Dartmouth’s Tuck, UC Berkeley Haas, and NYU Stern, have a common problem; they are very good schools, top tier in fact, but everyone of them is located near an M7 school that attracts the very best candidates. If someone targeting NYC, Columbia is his/her top choice, targeting west coast, stanford is the best choice, Boston HBS and MIT, ..

  • C. Taylor

    “I think the school is in a very good place and undervalued at the moment.”

    Agreed. For anyone looking to break into banking, Cornell is a steal.

    Especially for internationals. Right now, London banking jobs at the MBA level are often going to finance-background candidates and are far fewer in number. Much better opportunities for a pivot to banking in NYC / the US.

  • Nothing is wrong with Cornell. I believe the decline is due to a number of factors that has nothing to do with the quality of the school or the MBA program. The school’s admissions director at one point left to head up the new Cornell Tech MBA program in New York. That left a void in admissions which has since been filled. The expansion in NYC and the big merger of the business schools–graduate, undergraduate and hotel–undoubtedly took a great deal of leadership attention and follow-up implementation that was distracting. But I think the school is in a very good place and undervalued at the moment.

  • Rami

    Hello John,

    Would love to have your thought on the big decline in applications number for Cornell? What is wrong with this school?!

  • JohnAByrne

    It’s too early to assess round one volume. Most of the elite schools tend to be tight lipped about round volume, as you probably know. My guess is that it’s slightly down, largely because fewer international applicants are applying and there is no increase in domestic candidates. This varies from school to school as the above numbers clearly show. As for Stanford, there’s a new sheriff in town on the admissions side so if there are fewer round one invites for interviews it could simply reflect a desire to hold back a bit more in the early going.

  • Marco

    Hi John, do you have any indication yet on application volume of this year‘s R1 (especially hbs, wharton, stanford) vs last year? Do you predict application number have gone up or down?

    Eg for Stanford it seems like many less interview invites are being reported this year vs last year on internet forums. I‘m wondering whether this is any indication to the number of applications.

  • Agree. Many of the Canadian schools tend not to be as transparent as U.S. schools with data. That makes it a bit more difficult to do, but not impossible.

  • OG

    Would be nice to have a piece focused on Canadian schools. Rumor has it that they experienced an unprecedented increase in applications starting in January 2017, and this increase may come at the expense of U.S. schools, excluding maybe the top 10.

  • hmm

    Booth: 4,674 – 4,031 = 643
    Wharton: 6,692 – 6,408 = 284

    Booth volume rose 4x faster than Wharton but raw volume still with the latter.

    Its not surprising, given the fact that, compared to past decades, more people now think that Booth is better than Wharton.

    I think the real story though is Foster. Applications, acceptance rates and yield ALL improved. Its the Amazon effect.

  • Gambi

    Clearly, Cornell is declining and will go down further..

  • twitfer

    “Yale SOM is the hottest elite business school in the U.S., if not the world, with considerable momentum behind it.”

  • Brad

    Kellogg is the only M7 school to have a decline in applications. Story here too.

    A more signifant story is that kellogg had announced around 5 years back to cut its full time mba by 25% so that they could double their 1Y program. However they have doubled their 1Y program while keeping their 2Y program same. Now more than 700 people get some variation of Kellogg MBA, diluting their brand.

  • Gilles

    Over 5 years, Booth apps up 244 in 5 years and Wharton apps up 194. Where’s the story here?