Looking at the top 10 schools, all but Dartmouth Tuck saw application declines, with the University of Michigan Ross School of Business suffering the worst, an 8.5% drop from 3,485 to 3,188 apps. Harvard fell 4.5%, UC-Berkeley Haas 7.5%, Wharton 6.7%, Stanford 4.6%, and Booth 8.2%. Interestingly, only Wharton (by one student) and Tuck saw actual declines in enrollment, with the latter school dropping by six students. Correspondingly, eight of the 10 schools saw their acceptance rates rise, but only slightly, with Michigan seeing the biggest rise at 2% (to 27%) and Wharton next at 1.4% (to 20.6%). Stanford, which was at 6.0% last year, may have risen slightly but remains by far the hardest B-school to gain entry to.
“I don’t think a change from 6.0% to 6.3% is cause for any alarm, especially since Stanford continues to enjoy the lowest admission rate of all programs,” Alex Min says. “However, it should motivate GSB and all top-tier business schools to revisit their value proposition and make a more compelling case to potential applicants who are sitting on the fence about attending B-school. It’s time for schools to start selling themselves more strategically and aggressively than in the past.
“At least for now, most top-10 schools are feeling significantly less pain than their lower-ranked rivals. While the current applicant pool is smaller for all programs, the migration of candidates to top-tier schools continues due in great part to a superior ROI (e.g., higher quality employers, more job offers, higher compensation, etc.). That said, even the most prestigious schools are getting the cold shoulder from traditional prospects who are choosing to keep their current jobs or enroll in specialized degree programs, as well as those outside the U.S. facing visa-related challenges.”
BOTTOM LINE: B-SCHOOL, FOR NOW, IS MORE ACCESSIBLE
Reports of the death of MBA programs — especially those in the top tier — are greatly exaggerated, Min says. That comports with P&Q‘s reporting. But shifts in selectivity certainly mean a changed landscape — at least for now.
“A tougher economy, higher unemployment and/or liberalized visa policy are wild cards that could help reverse this trend within a few years. It’s not that working professionals no longer value graduate business education. As evidenced by the growing popularity of specialized master’s degrees and online MBAs, as well as some non-U.S. MBA programs, the need for higher learning is still there. However, values, priorities, resources, alternatives, and attitudes are evolving among those in the demographic that have historically applied to full-time B-schools. Just as decades of MBA marketing professors have taught their students to examine why customers buy a particular automobile or beverage, business school administrators need to examine why today’s candidates are motivated to pursue — or not pursue — an MBA, then accordingly modify the school’s Four Ps (i.e., Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) to improve market awareness, interest, preference, and purchase.
“For individuals who want and need an MBA from a top tier B-school, the current decline in application volume and bump in acceptance rates make this education more accessible today than in recent years. There’s no guarantee that will still be true a few years from now. The essential benefits of a blue-chip MBA education remain unchanged and unbeatable: deeper knowledge, expanded perspective, prestigious brand, accelerated career, unmatched network, and a platform to change professional direction. So, consider today’s acceptance rates as signaling opportunity rather than warning of danger.”
(See the next pages for all acceptance rate, application, admission, enrollment and yield data for the top 50 business schools.)