European Schools Increasing MBA Intakes

HEC Paris has plans to increase its incoming student cohort of MBAs

MBA applications to European schools may be mixed, with some schools up and others down. But many of the schools have increased their intakes to record levels and several others are planning to do so.

London Business School increased its MBA intake from five to six streams this year. It now takes 485 students a year, something made possible by the opening of a new building. LBS originally planned to expand the MBA in 2019, but the school brought it forward by a year (see Meet The Class of 2020 At London Business School).

The increase occurred in a year when applications to London Business School fell by 10% (see MBA Acceptance Rates At Top European Business Schools). The school says it is relaxed about that figure, describing it as the sort of blip they see all the time. For potential applicants, though, this could be an opportunity. Even if number of applications return to the previous year’s level for the next intake, the raw figures suggest that the chances of getting in are higher than they used to be.


HEC Paris, which has increased its cohort size over the past few years, plans to bump up the number of people it will bring in for its next cohort by  around 20 students. The numbers will probably increase slowly over the next few years, as the school says it is wary of increasing too much and diluting the quality of the class, and that 50 more than it has now is probably the limit. Only 30% to 35% of HEC’s MBA cohort are women, a number they are very keen to increase. High-quality female applicants might see that as an opportunity.

Highly-regarded Warwick Business School increased its September cohort this year by 56%, as the school experienced a 26% increase in applications. Some 74% of the candidates received offers. An average GMAT score of 654 also puts it at the lower end for a top school (Average GMAT Scores At The Top 20 European Business Schools).

One highly ranked European program is unlikely to substantially boost the size of its entering MBA cohorts is INSEAD, but the school’s enrollment appears to be inching higher and higher. In 2015, INSEAD put 1,018 MBAs into the market, more than any other prestige business school in the world. After enrolling 1,033 students a year ago, INSEAD this year is now up to 1,039 MBA candidates. That’s slightly more than 100 over the 934 students Harvard Business School graduated this year.


For applicants navigating these trends, there are different ways to look at the European market. Of the large schools with over 2,000 applicants, the numbers suggest that IESE Business School in Spain could give applicants the best chance. From just under 3,000 applicants, almost 800 enrolled. The odds at IESE are far better than those at Paris’s HEC, where just 391 of 2,231 applicants got offers and 235 enrolled. However, that is not the whole story. if GMATs are a good guide then both are equally hard to get into – the average score for IESE’s class was 680 while HEC’s was 691.

Berlin’s ESMT also looks interesting, especially for those looking for a springboard into continental Europe. Out of 228 applicants, 109 were offered a place. True, 2018-2019 applications were down 11%, but the school – which is housed in a spectacular former communist building – says that this is because it reduced its recruitment efforts in Africa, which were not yielding results. So, the numbers are likely to remain similar this year.

While the data might not yield many clear pictures of applications trends, admissions directors at the top European schools do see some. One is that as the U.S. is certainly becoming less attractive to students. “What my colleagues in the US are saying is that they’re facing a real drop in international applications,” says Benoit Banchereau, director of admissions for the full-time MBA at HEC. “The first thing they mention is the lack of their own security. Students say they actually fear for their life. For me, I couldn’t imagine that it was that but it’s really what they hear.”

But the million-dollar question is: has the unattractiveness of the U.S. translated into increases in applications to European schools? “It doesn’t mean that automatically,” says Banchereau. “Those people aren’t just thinking: ‘Okay, so I’m not going to the US, I’m going to Europe.’ Some of them, of course, are doing this. but I think some of them also go to Asia, because I think there’s also some growth in Asia. Of course, we probably get some of them will apply to HEC, and I’d say at London Business School, but I wouldn’t say that explains any of our growth.”


David Simpson heads up MBA admissions at the London Business School

There is an increase in interest from American students, though. “A trend across a few business schools in Europe is the increased interest of students from the United States in MBA programs outside of their home country,” says Tino Elgner, senior associate director of admissions for full-time programs at Madrid’s IE Business School. “That is also reflected and noticeable in our application numbers. In addition, we have seen a steady increase in students from Mexico.” It could be interesting to see if other Spanish-speaking South American MBAs choose Spanish schools over U.S. ones in coming years. Increases in applications from North America are not the result of increased marketing in that region, says Elgner, unlike the higher numbers from other countries like Israel and Australia, which can be clearly attributed to a concerted effort to recruit from there.

If the Trump effect is having an effect, is Brexit changing application patterns too? “At the moment it doesn’t seem to be having too much effect on us,” says London Business School’s admissions chief David Simpson. “It comes up in conversation, but as many times as people are concerned, it’s with people saying they’re looking at the opportunities to be gained from being here in a post-Brexit environment, especially if you’re at the higher qualification and skill set. It isn’t impacting as negatively at the moment, but we’re keeping an eye on it. Our student body is highly international and usually those who want to stay and work in London can do so, irrespective of being European nationals or not. We’re not expecting the impact of Brexit to be huge in that way.”

Over the Channel the view is slightly different. “If I was a student today probably I would say: ’I’m not sure if I want to go to a country like in the U.K. that thinks it’s actually better to be just on our own,’” says HEC’s Benoit Banchereau. “That would be actually a first issue for me. The second one will be if Brexit happens next year, am I going to find a job in the U.K.?’” He thinks that the very top schools will still be attractive to international students, because having them on your CV is a stamp of approval. Whether the negatives associated with Brexit will outweigh the benefits of an MBA from a less prestigious school remains to be seen. In general, though, Banchereau says, “I think more and more students are turning to countries where they feel that globalization is still actually at work.”

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