For years, the world’s MBA applicants have consistently asked the question whether the best European business school equal the best options in the U.S. The Financial Times ranking, in particular, would suggest that many of the European and Asian schools can now go toe-to-toe with the likes of Harvard, Columbia, MIT Sloan and Chicago Booth.
But the metrics in the FT ranking fail to capture statistics that reflect on the quality of incoming classes of MBA students, the selectivity of the best MBA programs, the financial resources available to schools to buy the best faculty and students, and the FT’s methodology tends to disguise the full career outcomes of graduates by adjusting MBA compensation data on purchasing parity conversions.
One of the most frustrating aspects of this debate has to do with the lack of transparency of admission statistics by many of the European business schools. INSEAD routinely declines to reveal the number of applicants to its ten-month MBA program, the number of admitted candidates or the acceptance rate for its students. So do many other highly prominent European rivals. INSEAD is a bit more generous when it comes to class GMAT averages but little else (see Average GMAT Scores For Top 20 European Business Schools).
ONLY TWO OF THE TOP 20 IN THE U.S. HAVE AN ACCEPTANCE RATE HIGHER THAN INSEAD
Reliable sources tell Poets&Quants that INSEAD, which had been ranked first by the FT for two consecutive years in 2017 and 2016, accepts slightly more than 30% of everyone who applies to the school, an acceptance rate far beyond Stanford’s 6%, Harvard’s 11%, or MIT Sloan’s 12%. In fact, only two—UNC Kenan-Flagler and Emory Goizueta—of the top 20 U.S. business schools have higher admit rates than INSEAD.
At London Business School, the acceptance rate is similar to INSEAD’s at 32.8%. At the business schools at both Cambridge and Oxford, it’s estimated (Judge and Said won’t provide actual numbers) to be slightly north of that. And at the best Spanish business schools, IESE, IE and ESADE, it hovers between 35% and 38% (see table with the latest data for the entering classes in 2018).
Asked about the school’s refusal to provide admissions data which is publicly available on all the U.S. schools, INSEAD Director for MBA Recruitment & Admissions Virginie Fougea told Poets&Quants: “The reason why we don’t communicate those numbers is primarily because it drives people to wrong conclusions. It starts creating the thoughts of ‘I have more chances’ or ‘I don’t have any chances so I should not apply or even consider this.’ We feel it gives them the freedom to decide which school they want to apply to depending on their profile, depending on the network they want to belong to, depending on the family they want to be part of. And they should make a decision based on what fits their need and career plan, rather than trying to speculate on their chances.”
AN EXCEPTION TO THE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY: HEC PARIS WITH THE LOWEST ADMIT RATE FOR ANY EUROPEAN SCHOOL WITH MORE THN 1,000 APPLICANTS
More skeptical observers suggest another reason for the lack of candor. “The simplest explanation is almost always the best one: The European schools tend not to report their stats because their stats tend not to reflect well on their institutions,” maintains Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “If your application volume were sinking and your acceptance rates were rising, then your standards are falling. Maybe you don’t want to broadcast that? Until the trends are in their favor, expect opacity.”
When Poets&Quants asked for standard admissions data from each of the top 20 European schools, four schools–Imperial College Business School in London, Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, City University’s Cass Business School in London and Lancaster Business School—-declined to provide any information at all. Many others–including Cambridge, Oxford, IESE, IE and Warwick–would only fork over partial and incomplete admissions data.
Of course, there are European exceptions to this lack of transparency. HEC Paris and London Business School routinely provide applicants the same data they can expect from a top U.S. school. With a 17.5% acceptance rate, HEC Paris can rightly claim to admit fewer candidates from its applicant pool than Wharton, Chicago Booth, Northwestern Kellogg or Dartmouth Tuck. In the past year, some 2,231 candidates, a 5% increase over year-earlier volume, applied to HEC’s MBA program. The school admitted only 391 candidates to enroll a class of 235 students.
MBA APPLICATION VOLUME MIXED FOR EUROPEAN SCHOOLS
Yet, the most selective—judged by merely the acceptance rate without regard to other crucial factors such as GMAT and GRE scores, undergradute grades or work history—is a big surprise. Mannheim Business School in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, reports an admit rate of just 16.6%, a sliver below HEC Paris, to be the full-time MBA program with the lowest acceptance. Mannheim’s 12-month program is small, with 55 students but in the past year the school says it received 465 applicants and admited just 77 of them.
Despite reports that more MBA candidates are applying to European programs, the schools reporting on their stats show a mixed picture. Warwick Business School claims one of the biggest percentage increase in MBA applicants this past year, reporting a 26% jump in applications. Cambridge University’s Judge Business School says applications increased by 16% to 1,286, while IE Business School in Spain reports a 10% jump in applicants to 2,927. The largest increase, however, occurred at IMD where applications soared by 63%.
But applicants to a host of other well-known European options are down. London Business School says it received 10% fewer applications for its MBA program in the 2017-2018 admissions season, while ESMT Berlin in Germany was down 11% and IESE Business School in Spain was down 8%. Italy’s SDA Bocconi reports the same level of applications as the previous year: 375 for 108 classroom seats.