The Closers: Business Schools That Get The Students They Want

The 2017 graduation of Columbia Business School MBAs


“We know exactly what we are looking for regarding who we want to join our community: Individuals will make a positive impact on our community and positive contributions to business and society once they leave our campus,” Cashman writes in a statement to P&Q. “We work very hard to help our applicants understand the value Columbia Business School offers and how their background will contribute to our wonderful mosaic.”

The full-time program also benefits from an early decision option available to fall candidates. In a nutshell, these prospects can certify in their applications that CBS is their first choice, agreeing to withdraw applications to other programs upon acceptance. In the process, such candidates enjoy priority review by admissions – often receiving decisions before other schools. While the timing may give CBS an advantage with yield, it also furnishes a more fundamental piece of the puzzle, adds Cashman.

“Regardless of when you apply, every student who joins our community shares certain defining traits, such as being driven by a strong work ethic, being ready to build and foster professional and personal relationships, and are determined to make a real impact on the world through their chosen field. To us, ED provides us advanced insight into the diversity of candidates – backgrounds; geographies; career history and future goals – that we believe we will ultimately enroll in our upcoming class. ED also allows candidates to really express their clear desire to make Columbia Business School their school of choice and allows us to better understand their reasons for choosing Columbia Business School.”


Overall, 21 of the Top 50 MBA programs maintained a yield rate over 50%, with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and MIT Sloan also keeping their numbers over 60%. They join programs like HBS, Stanford GSB, and Columbia Business School in that regard. Translation: these schools were often the winners in head-to-head competitions where applicants had to choose between two or more offers. In contrast, Rutgers University scored the lowest yield rate among P&Q Top 50 programs at 30.2%, followed by Washington University Olin (31.0%) and Rochester Simon (31.3%).

Alas, yield is one of those measures where it can be difficult to move the needle. The biggest one year improvement among Top 20 programs was posted by Cornell Johnson at 4.0% (followed by Stanford GSB and NYU Stern at 3.8%). In sum, Penn State Smeal achieved the biggest growth in yield at 11.4%. It was followed by SMU Cox (+10.4%) and Wisconsin (+9.9%), with Texas A&M Mays suffering the biggest dropoff at 19.4%.

Over time, yield can also tip potential MBAs off to emerging trends. Stanford GSB, for one, has seen an uptick in accepted students enrolling, with yield rising from 83.9% to 89.1% over two years. During that same period, yield rose by 6.3% and 5.9% at Cornell Johnson and Notre Dame Mendoza respectively. In contrast, Duke Fuqua has witnessed its rate fall by 10.8%, despite an “Early Action” option similar to Columbia. The stock at the University of Washington Foster is also down, as its yield rate has plunged 9.3% over the past two years (which coincides with a 30% decrease in class size).


That said, yield can be a flawed benchmark for measuring brand appeal. It certainly isn’t a popularity contest: That is reflected in the number of applications (and percentage of growth), It also isn’t a measure of global brand appeal. Look no further than the yield rates at programs like Northwestern Kellogg, Chicago Booth, Berkeley Haas, and Dartmouth Tuck, which are lower than programs like the Texas-Dallas Jindal, Georgia Terry, Ohio State Fisher, and Michigan State Broad. One reason: different programs target different populations with different rates of success. It also doesn’t reflect enticements like scholarships, which are more readily available at programs like HBS and Rice Jones. Even more, yield is a snapshot of perceived value at the admissions end, which naturally doesn’t factor in outcomes ranging from pay and placement to educational quality and overall satisfaction.

What’s more, yield is a measure that is carefully managed by admissions. Business schools don’t like to think of themselves as safety schools. As a result, students perceived to be “too good” for a program stand a greater chance of being rejected or waitlisted there. Think of these candidates as the proverbial best-looking man or woman in the bar, where potential suitors choose to sit it out figuring they’ll get shot down. The result, of course, is candidates who fall outside the profile must take extra pains to lay out why they’re applying at programs ‘below them’ to win over suspicious adcoms.

Bottom line: yield is a measure of brand alignment: which programs really get the people they want – the applicants whose values, aspirations, professional credentials, and academic prowess align with their own. Because of that, the number also mirrors cultural fit – and a class that is happy to be where they are on day one. Call that brand harmonization – and it  doesn’t always line up with a school’s ranking or academic inputs.

To see application and yield numbers for your favorite schools, go to the next two pages.

DON’T MISS: 2018-2019 MBA Deadlines

Where MBA Apps Are Way Up — And Down

EDITOR’S NOTE: Temple Fox’s data was removed due to it being unreliable. Iowa Tippie was also not included since it will be ending its full-time MBA program in 2019.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.