More Evidence That Politics Are Keeping Students From U.S. B-Schools

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business has been among the hardest-hit by the downturn in international student applications. A new Kaplan survey asked admissions officers why they think foreign students are staying away from U.S. schools. File photo

Every new report on international student views of MBA programs in the United States unravels a little more of the mystery behind why so many applicants are staying away, while reinforcing exactly how much this talent pool is eschewing the U.S. to a degree not seen in years — even in the midst of a relatively strong job market for newly minted MBAs. The latest batch of evidence comes from Kaplan Test Prep, the educational and career services provider.Kaplan surveyed admissions officers at more than 150 business schools across the United States about the application decline and asked them to identify what they see as the top reasons for it. If you’ve followed the issue, the answers will sound familiar. In a report released Wednesday (January 30), Kaplan reveals that 31% say it’s because many international students are concerned about the current political climate in the U.S. and seeking business school options elsewhere, while 30% says it’s because the strong job market is keeping prospective students in the workforce.

“There’s no question that business schools are facing some significant headwinds that are largely out of their control when it comes to recruitment, particularly among international students,” says Jeff Thomas, executive director of admissions programs for Kaplan Test Prep, in a news release accompanying the report. “While a strong job market may be great for current MBAs who are finding jobs and securing high salaries, that same strong job market is convincing potential new students to stay put, where their current jobs seems secure and their pay is good.”


As Poets&Quants wrote last September, MBA applications this past year plunged at 18 of the top 20 U.S. business schools. Only two schools bucked the trend, and not by very much: Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, which eked out less than a 1% gain over its year-earlier number, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where applications rose 3.3%.

Just outside the top 20, only one other prominent school could report an increase: the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, which saw just a 1% uptick. But 10 highly prominent MBA programs suffered double-digit application declines, including the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

This follows a P&Q analysis from last summer showing definitively that international student numbers were plummeting, especially at mid-tier schools. And last spring, we wrote about one of the key drivers of slumping international applications: employers are shying away from hiring grads who might have difficulty getting work visas after leaving school.


Kaplan’s results are based on a survey conducted by phone between August and September 2018. It included responses from 153 business schools, including 33 of the top 100 as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Among its other findings: 17% of admissions officers say the downturn in international student applications can be traced to the cost of an MBA education; 13% attribute it to lingering questions about the value of the degree; 7% say it’s because of the lack of one-year MBA programs in the United States; and 3% say it’s because of a perception that fewer jobs require an MBA than in years past.

For many schools, the drop in applications from international students — who for many make up a significant share of their overall student population — appears to be a longer-term concern. Nearly three quarters (74%) of the business schools polled are concerned that the current domestic political climate will have a negative impact on international student enrollment in the years to come, up from the 68% who responded accordingly in Kaplan’s 2017 survey.

“Trends in MBA applications are almost always cyclical,” Thomas says. “When the job market is soft, you see an increase in applicants, as prospective students see the value in becoming more marketable and waiting out a weak economy. When the job market is robust, as it has been for the past two years, applications tend to be down. But even if the economy does take a downturn, an American political climate that discourages international students from coming may erode any normal application increase. We’ll continue to track this trend.”

(See a Kaplan infographic on the new survey on page 2.)

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