Could 2020-2021 Be The Biggest MBA Application Season Ever?

Everyone is predicting an increase in MBA applications this coming year. The only question is how much of an increase. Some believe it could be a record-breaking year


Linda Abraham, founder of, is predicting a 20% jump in applications at the top 25 business schools this year. “It’s definitely possible that the surge could bring volume back to levels not seen before,” she says. “We’re seeing a significant increase in site traffic, inquiries for next year, and MBA sales, which are up markedly year over year since April. Interestingly we are not seeing a decline in international inquiries. They too are up. The increase is not just due to COVID round applicants; it includes applicants who are starting now for next year.”

In fact, most MBA admission firms say their business is up. “We have more inquiries than for the same period last year, and more importantly, from the interactions we’ve been having, a higher percentage of the prospective clients are serious with fewer tire-kickers,” adds Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, another leading provider of admissions consulting services. “All in all, I would be very surprised if we don’t see increased applicant volume this admissions season if early indications are any sign.”

Admission consultants say the drivers to this forthcoming surge are pretty obvious. “MBA demand is counter-cyclical to the economy,” says Magna of Stacy Blackman Consulting. “Opportunity costs are now lower. MBA applicants typically are debt-free in their twenties and can incur the costs of the education. Some young professionals see the MBA as an escape from unemployment or furlough status.”

David White, a founding partner at Menlo Coaching, notes that there are layoffs already announced “at some big MBA feeders like Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft and a bunch of companies that send in at least a few applicants each, including ad tech companies, autonomous vehicle companies, travel companies like Expedia and Booking, airlines & rental car companies, Tesla, brick and mortar retailers, which makes the job market less attractive compared to the alternative of enrolling in an MBA.”


With prospects greatly diminished for those still employed, there is also among many young professionals a greater appreciation for the skills they may need in the future. “At a deeper level,” adds Magna, “many of the MBA applicants we are seeing in recent weeks are telling us that they require the sophisticated knowledge and thought that is inherent to MBA programs in order to navigate the dynamic business changes ahead. MBA applicants look to the MBA to attain the tools and frameworks, which have never been as vital, to embrace and thrive in the radically-changing business landscape. technology, supply chain, and other disciplines will be reimagined within the business school environment, and that is a huge lure. It is an exciting time for young, MBA-aspiring professionals. Many view the 2023 MBA class as symbolizing new beginnings and hope.”

A current client at Stacy Blackman also acknowledges the need for more education. He is a young entrepreneur, who sold his start-up tech company. The applicant says, “I want the MBA to learn about emerging technologies. Long-term, I want to change the world with autonomous vehicles and smart cities.”

Diarte-Edwards is less optimistic about a large increase in international candidates applying to attend U.S. schools. “In a U.S. presidential election year that is going to be noisy and nasty, there will be a sizeable number of H1B residents who are tired of the rhetoric and worrying about the lack of long-term security and see one of the top business schools as a way to transition to a new career beyond the U.S.,” she says. “For the same political reasons, the wider international MBA applicant market will be hesitant to make plans for the U.S.: long-term opportunities and the visa situation are too uncertain, and the strong dollar in the midst of such uncertainty makes the ROI beyond the M7 and some of the S7 less compelling. Top European MBA programs will see a year of double-digit growth, starting with those that start in January – INSEAD, IMD, HEC Paris, RSM – if they are more confident about offering an in-person campus experience.”


Rajdeep Chimni, founder of Admissions Gateway and the leading MBA admissions consultant in India, says that even the anti-immigration rhetoric by Trump hasn’t dampened enthusiasm among Indian applicants from coming back to the U.S. market. For the top ten MBA programs in the U.S., he says, “the demand has not gone up a fraction, it’s a quantum jump. On Trump, most people think it’s talk and no action, and with COVID, people think that when they join in September of next year things should be fine. Besides, most if not all top B-schools are STEM-designated now so there is a longer runway in the U.S. on OPT (optional practical training).”

Cormney, a co-founder of MBA Prep School, expects 2020-2021 to be an improved year for MBA applications, he’s far less sure if it will reach record levels. “While I do anticipate an increase in applications year-over-year, I’m not predicting a boom. That’s because of the anti-immigration rhetoric from Washington, which generates fear that employment in the U.S. may not be an option upon graduation. Put that together with difficulty taking the GMAT, the eye-popping cost of an MBA degree, and uncertainty about what the MBA experience might look like even a year from now, and I look into the crystal ball and predict growth rates of 5% to 10% from last application season.”

Abraham, even while predicting a 20% jump in apps to the top 25 schools, is still somewhat cautious, too. “Will it be ‘record volume?’ I’m not sure. My crystal ball is much cloudier on that question,” she adds. “But application volume climbs during a recession when wannabe MBAs seek refuge from the economic storm in a way that will advance their careers. The two-year MBA fits the bill to a tee, other than the price tag, which you don’t really know unless you apply. You spend two years gaining new skills, an improved network, and a shiny credential, and then graduate as the economy emerges from recession and starts to expand. At least that’s the plan.”

Alex Min of The MBA Exchange agrees. “I don’t know if it will be the biggest admissions boom ever, but I do think this will be a better year in terms of applicant volume than from the year-on-year decrease we’ve seen over the past few years,” he says. “We know, generally speaking, recessions result in more applicants applying to business school.  However, due to the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, this time is different, and I think we need to temper expectations a bit.”






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