More B-School Prospects Shy Away From U.S.

International students continue to eschew U.S. business schools, according to the latest survey data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. transparentcareer

Interest in coming to the U.S. to study for a graduate business degree has fallen off a cliff over the last two years after gradually declining in the eight years before that, according to a report published today (April 24) by the Graduate Management Admission Council. After falling from 54% to 48% between 2009 and 2016, preference for the U.S. declined to 40% in 2018. Preference for Western Europe, meanwhile, grew from 31% to 40% in the last two years.

The trend, GMAC says, is “likely driven in part by the current political climate.” Prospective students perceived the U.S. as less likely than other destinations to be selected for safety and physical security and affordability. By comparison, Canada is more likely to be selected than other destinations because of the ease of obtaining work permits and student visas, as well as the availability of financial aid and safety and physical security. Western European schools were most likely to be selected because of the reputation of their educational systems and improved chances of an international career.

The extent of the decline in U.S. business degree programs was dramatic. Prospective students in East and South East Asia now prefer the United Kingdom over the U.S. as a study destination by a margin of nearly six to one, with 28% indicating their preference for a U.K. school and only 5% for a program in the U.S. Would-be business students in Western Europe prefer to study in Spain over the U.S. by more than a six to one margin, with 39% wanting to study in Western Europe and only 6% in the U.S. Some 25% of prospective students in Central and South Asia say they would prefer to earn their degree in France versus 6% in the U.S.

GMAC 2018 Prospective Students Survey


No less worrisome for U.S. deans of business schools was the finding that consideration of one-year MBA programs surpassed two-year MBA programs (47% vs. 45%) in 2018 for only the second time in the last decade of survey data, probably a consequence of the growth in interest for European MBA options. Only 19% of the respondents preferred a two-year MBA, while 21% were leaning toward a one-year option.

At a Poets&Quants event this week on the campus of the University of Michigan, admissions officers from Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business expressed concern about application declines this year and attributed them largely to a continued dropoff in international applicants. All expressed concern over yield, as well, as the M7 schools dip further into the applicant pool to make up for the decline in apps. 

Despite the falloff in international applicants, GMAC said that the MBA remains by far the most popular choice among prospective business school applicants — and that more than ever, those prospects are looking to study outside the United States. Overall, 79% of candidates are considering an MBA and 61% prefer such a program, while 36% prefer a business master’s program type, according to the two reports titled Demand for MBA and Business Master’s Programs: Insights on Candidate Decision-Making. The reports — a summary report and supplemental report — are based on a sample of the registered users of GMAC’s website from the organization’s Prospective Students Survey and present findings associated with candidate decision-making and demand for business school programs and study destinations.

Source: GMAC 2018 Prospective Students Survey


Source: GMAC 2018 Prospective Students Survey

GMAC’s reports are based on responses from 9,617 individuals surveyed between January and December 2018, as well as responses from more than 126,000 individuals surveyed between the years 2009 and 2017. Pertaining to international trends, the reports found that the United States notably remains a more common international application target and preferred study destination among residents of East and Southeast Asia and Central and South Asia — regions that are major sources of international candidates.

But major shifts are underway elsewhere. Among GMAC’s most surprising findings: Despite the continued popularity of full-time MBA programs, overall consideration of one-year programs (47%) surpassed two-year programs (45%) in 2018, something that has happened only once before in the last 10 years of survey data. Once again, the reasons likely lie with the uptick in interest in European programs by internationals.

See select charts from GMAC’s summary report and supplemental report on the next page.

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