MIT Can’t Defy Widespread MBA App Decline

MIT Sloan enrolled 416 students this year, up from 409 last year. The school saw a modest decline in applications — 6.5%, and 10.3% in the last two cycles. File photo

The ominous drumbeat continues. Another top-10 school has provided Poets&Quants with its 2021 class profile numbers — and once again the data shows a leading school grappling with the reality that has hit all but one of the elite business schools in the United States: full-time MBA programs are experiencing their worst decline in years.

MIT’s Sloan School of Management is the latest school to report a drop in MBA application volume this cycle. The Sloan School received 5,200 apps in 2018-2019, down 6.5% from the previous year’s 5,560 and down 10.3% from 2016-2017, when the school received 5,798. MIT’s acceptance rate last fall was unchanged from the previous year, about 11.5%, but it most likely went up with the enrollment of a larger class out of a smaller pool of applicants.

Of all the top schools, Chicago Booth is the only one to evade the app slump the year. Though the Booth School has not yet officially released its class profile, data provided to P&Q shows that it increased its apps by 144 this fall, from 4,289 to 4,433, a 3.4% increase. Yet Chicago is still down 5.2% in the last three cycles. Among peer schools, Columbia Business School is the closest to unscathed after Chicago, having lost just 2.5% of app volume from last year — but CBS is actually in better shape than Chicago and all top-10 schools over the last two cycles, having lost only 2.2% in that span.

Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business also saw a reversal of fortune this year, and a positive application result, but is down more than 23% in the last three cycles.


Things are much worse further down the ranking. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business dropped 31.5% of its app volume in one year, a 341-application decline from 1,082 in 2017-2018 to just 741 this cycle. The Kelley School has lost 40.6% of app volume in two years. In that span, since the app slump began, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has lost 38.5% of its apps, and the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business has lost 24.9%. Six more schools have lost more than 20% (see table below).

Why the slump? Lots of reasons. H1-B visa rules are viewed as onerous by many international students (a fact spurring the embrace and growth of STEM MBA programs). The current political atmosphere in the U.S. as it relates to immigration isn’t helping. And the economy is good, a fact that has traditionally depressed interest in returning to school to pursue a long-term degree like an MBA.

However, some B-school leaders say this isn’t a normal time, and the usual responses to crises won’t be as effective. “I believe the reasons for recent shifts in application volume go far beyond the natural rhythms of the economic cycles,” Luke Anthony Peña, executive director for admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth Tuck, told Poets&Quants in August. His school lost 22.5% of its apps in one year, worst of any top-10 school. “I think they have to do with how and when and where and why today’s graduate leaders are choosing to level up their skills and to build broader networks.”

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