Stanford GSB | Mr. Entrepreneurial Bassist
GMAT 740, GPA 3.61
McCombs School of Business | Ms. Second Chances
GRE 310, GPA 2.5
Rice Jones | Mr. Back To School
GRE 315, GPA 3.0
Cornell Johnson | Mr. IT To IB
GMAT 660, GPA 3.60
Kellogg | Mr. Green Business
GMAT 680, GPA 3.33; 3.9 for Masters
Duke Fuqua | Ms. Account Executive
GMAT 560, GPA 3.3
NYU Stern | Mr. Military Officer
GRE In Progress, GPA 2.88
Kellogg | Mr. Real Estate Finance
GMAT 710, GPA 3.0
Kellogg | Mr. Finance To Education
GMAT 730, GPA 3.4
Stanford GSB | Ms. Artistic Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 9.49/10
Emory Goizueta | Mr. Multimedia
GRE 308, GPA 3.4
UCLA Anderson | Mr. Commercial Banker
GMAT 700, GPA 3.3
IU Kelley | Mr. Construction Manager
GRE 680, GPA 3.02
Harvard | Mr. Healthcare Fanatic
GMAT 770, GPA 3.46
Harvard | Mr. Sovereign Wealth Fund
GMAT 730, GPA 3.55
Harvard | Mr. Smart Operations
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0
Darden | Mr. Strategy Manager
GRE 321, GPA 3.5
Ross | Mr. Airline Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.73
Stanford GSB | Mr. Corporate VC Hustler
GMAT 780, GPA 3.17
Wharton | Mr. Marketing Director
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Ross | Ms. Healthcare Startup
GRE 321, GPA 3.51
Georgetown McDonough | Ms. Air Force
GMAT 610, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. JD To MBA
GRE 326, GPA 3.01
Harvard | Mr. MacGruber
GRE 313, GPA 3.7
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Poet At Heart
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Yale | Mr. Ukrainian Biz Man
GRE 310, GPA 4.75 out of 5
Darden | Mr. Former Scientist
GMAT 680, GPA 3.65

MBA Apps Take A Shocking Plunge

President Donald Trump


The strength of the U.S. economy, meantime, isn’t helping things. Strong economies depress MBA application volume. With the U.S. near full employment, professionals have plenty of job opportunities without having to pursue a graduate degree.  And during economic downturns, when layoffs occur, many young professionals seek refuge in school.

GMAC’s survey of prospective students this year found that employment has become a formidable alternative to going back to school for a graduate degree in business. GMAC estimates that seven of every ten prospective students in North America are considering alternatives to business school to achieve their goals. In Asia-Pacific, it’s even worse. Some 74%, vs. the 70% in the U.S., see alternatives to business school.

“Employment is the biggest competitor to business school,” according to GMAC’s Prospective Student Report published in May. “Sixty-one percent of prospective students are considering pursuing a new job and 43% are considering remaining in their current job as an alternative to business school (see chart below). “More employers are saying you don’t need an MBA,” notes Dawna Levenson, director of MIT Sloan admissions. While that may be self-serving advice to keep strong employees in place, it has the impact of keeping them out of the applicant pool.


“The strong economy does account for some of the drop,” agrees Andrews at Rice. “We’ve heard from some in Korea where the economy is also doing well that they are waiting. International schools also continue to improve and the ability to get a good education and not travel to the U.S. is better than it has ever been. We heard a lot of people say they were looking at Canada instead of the U.S.  and Europe as well.” At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School, MBA applications were up another 9% this year after a more sizable jump in the previous year.

And when millenials do look at MBA and other business graduate degrees, the sticker prices of these programs are causing second thoughts. “The cost of a graduate business degree and the need to take on student debt have the biggest potential impact and are the most likely to divert candidates from the B-school pipeline,” GMAC found.

So while more schools are dangling more scholarship dollars in front of their their MBA candidates than ever before, those discounts are not evident to would-be applicants who only see the rising costs of MBA tuition and fees and the loss of nearly two years of income they would have to give up to attend an on-campus program.


Tiny Mabley, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program at UT’s McCombs School

“Overall, about one in four of prospective students say that having to take on large debts and requiring more money than is available may prevent their plans to pursue graduate management. Another big reservation is fear of what the economy may be like when candidates graduate and how it may impact their job outlook. Additionally, others have reservations about having to delay attractive job opportunities.”

As is often the case, there also are a few schools that appear to be bucking the downward trend. At Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, applications rose by 17.6% this past year to 1,348 from 1,146. At UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, apps were up 3.3% to 3,423 from 3,314, and at USC’s Marshall School, they inched up a single percent to 2,017 from 1,998. Those schools are clear exceptions this year when just about everyone else has seen application volume shrink.

In fact, MBA admission consultants are advising their international clients not to expect an H1B visa if they come to the U.S. “We have been actively discouraging applicants who see the MBA as a guaranteed path to U.S. work eligibility and eventually a Green Card,” says David White of Menlo Coaching, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. ” There may be further drops coming, since some of the applicants inquiring with us would otherwise have been ready to apply to U.S. MBA programs thinking it would get them the H-1B.”

Is a prompt turnaround even possible? “There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now,” says Mabley. “If I had a crystal ball, I would play the stock market more. So I just don’t know. But the viability of the degree is still there and students are using the MBA in a variety of ways today. I think it will maintain its value for that reason.”


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.