There’s NEVER Been A Better Time To Apply To A Prestige MBA Program

Waiting in line to apply to a top MBA

The line to get into a top business school has gotten considerably shorter thanks to the big slump in MBA applications

If you ever wanted an MBA education from one of the world’s top business schools, this coming year may well be the best time ever for you to apply. That’s because a recession is just around the corner and MBA applications have now declined at most of the best programs for the second consecutive year and will likely fall again this year until the inevitable economic downturn kicks in (see Apps To Major MBA Programs Plunge Again). In other words, the long line to get an admit from a school has grown a lot shorter.

Just look at how the odds have shifted in favor of applicants at some of the very best MBA programs in the world. At highly prestigious Yale University’s School of Management, the acceptance rate for applicants jumped by nearly 44% in the past two years to 25% versus 17.4%. The average GMAT score for the latest entering class has fallen by six points since 2017 to 721 and the average undergraduate GPA has declined from last year’s peak of 3.71 to 3.64 (see Yale SOM Endures Another Rough Application Cycle).

Or consider Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, a perennial top ten MBA program. This past year, when applications to its full-time program plunged 22.5%, the school admitted more than one in three of its applicants: 34.5% versus a mere 23.3% a year earlier. That is a whopping 48% increase in the school’s acceptance rate in a single year.


Another stellar MBA program, almost always in the top 20 of the best U.S. options, is Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. At Indiana Kelley, applications nosedived from a high of more than 1,200 in the 2016-2017 cycle to just 741 this year, a 40.6% loss. The school lost 31.5% of app volume between last year and this year. In response, the school’s acceptance rate jumped an unprecedented dozen points to 50.1% for this years’ entering class.

At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, one of the true gems in MBA education with the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, applications have fallen by 23.6% in the past two years. That decline was exacerbated by the violent protest in Charlottesville two years ago. In any case, the school is now accepting more than a third of everyone who applies, 36.3%, up from 24.5% only two years ago.

This doesn’t mean that anyone can get through the still highly selective doors of these elite MBA programs. And at some schools, such as Harvard, the odds haven’t changed all that much. Even though the slump cost Harvard Business School 1,123 in the past two years alone, a more than 10% drop in applications in all, the school’s acceptance rate only went up a point to 12% (see MBA Applications To HBS Fall 6.7%). It’s a similar story at Columbia Business School, which saw apps fall by only 2.5%, though the school’s average GMAT score dropped by five points to a still hefty 727.

Still, the acceptance rates at Tuck, Darden, Kelley and several other prestige MBA programs are among the highest ever reported by those schools. In fact, the declines at second-tier schools have been even greater and longer-lasting, sending their admit rates into territory never before seen. There is no reason, moreover, to think that applications will turn up this year given the continued strong economy and other factors that have contributed to the decline.


In other words, you can expect the already low acceptance rates at very good schools to move higher with this current MBA admissions cycle. And this is at a time when schools are doling out record amounts of scholarship aid to candidates, often heavily favoring qualified young professional women, underrepresented minorities and males with high test scores. Amy Hillman, dean of Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, says there has never been a better time for young smart women to apply to top business schools, all of which are also trying to reach gender parity in their incoming classes. Hillman says it is not unusual for qualified female candidates to be offered full-ride scholarships now.

At this point, a recession is inevitable and it’s just around the corner. So students entering two-year MBA programs next fall will very likely sit out the economic downturn and graduate into a recovery. If you beat the crowd and apply before demand for the MBA swings up again you will face less competition for a coveted place in a prestige MBA program. And you may very well avoid a very tough time at work or even worse, a recession-caused layoff. While it may be too late to apply for the first round deadlines that start in September, there is nearly five full months before the round two cutoffs kick into gear in January (see 2019-2020 MBA Application Deadlines For Leading Schools).

“With an unprecedented decline in MBA application volume at many business schools – including iconic, top-tier programs – there’s definitely a ‘perfect storm’ happening for prospective applicants,” believes Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, a top admissions consulting firm. “Deans and admissions committees are feeling strong pressure to fill available seats with qualified candidates, even if some of these individuals might not have been admitted in previous years when application volume was growing.”

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