Poets&Quants’ Top Business School Trends Of The Decade

The last 10 years have been, by any measure, a decade of great change for graduate business education — and Poets&Quants, founded by John Byrne in August 2010, has been there to chronicle every major development. Not only have we seen paradigm-shifting innovations in business schools around the globe, we have witnessed unexpected declines in some sectors, rises in others, and evolutions that impact more than the MBA programs that are — for now — the flagships of most leading schools.

But some trends have been predominant, meriting long-term, in-depth coverage because they have changed how applicants apply, how MBA candidates learn, and how B-schools serve their students. Below are the five most important (and one honorable mention for good measure) that have had — and will continue to have — the greatest impact.

And for more on the exciting direction of management education in the last 10 years and what it means for the 10 years to come, listen to a discussion with John Byrne, Caroline Diarte Edwards from Fortuna Admissions, and ApplicantLab founder Maria Wich-Vila on current events and admissions trends in this recent episode of the weekly Business Casual podcast.

5. The Rise of the Graduate Record Exam

One business school entrance exam dominated the start of the decade. By the end of it, the sands had begun to shift in a big way.

The Graduate Management Admission Test remains the big dog when it comes to getting into the leading business schools. In the short term, even coronavirus is unlikely to completely change that. But a growing statistical mountain proves that the Graduate Record Exam is no longer the unloved step-child of business school admissions tests. According to data compiled by Poets&Quants, over the past five years the percentage of entrants submitting GRE scores has climbed at 42 of the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the United States. Ten years ago, not many schools accepted the GRE; now, all do.

The rise of the GRE comes with major effects on the graduate business landscape. First and foremost, it opens up a vast new pool of candidates. Many test-takers prefer it to the GMAT because it is applicable to other, non-business graduate programs. More women take it, drawn to its de-emphasis on quant metrics, and it is available in more locations. But an increased market share for the GRE has a downside (or two): As the GMAT declines, we get a less reliable look at the market and how it’s changing because the administrators of the test, the Graduate Management Admission Council, report their data in massive studies throughout the year. (Here’s the latest example.) As their numbers dwindle, the picture gets fuzzier. B-school admit directors, meanwhile, say they have no preference — though many privately will confide that the threshold for GRE submitters is higher.

Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, once also ran the GMAT until GMAC switched test administrators to Pearson VUE. Ever since, ETS has worked to build market share for the GRE to get back to their previous position. They are well on their way — and the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated their ascendancy. ETS got rave reviews for the at-home version of the exam it released in the spring, while GMAC’s at-home GMAT test was met with widespread grumbles over technical issues.

As it stands, it’s hard to escape the conclusions of admissions officials and consultants that the doors to graduate business education are wide open for those who wish to eschew the GMAT altogether or take and submit scores from both tests.

“We are seeing a higher percentage of our clients opting to take the GRE over the GMAT than in the past,” says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange and a 2007 MIT Sloan MBA. “Since ETS redesigned the GRE almost a decade ago — including a change in its scoring scale — more business schools began accepting GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT. Many business school applicants perceive the GRE as less intimidating than the GMAT, especially the Quant component.”

The GRE numbers keep going up. Check back next spring and you’ll likely see the test with a more prominent role than ever before in MBA admissions. And in five years — who knows? The test could displace the GMAT as the go-to exam for graduate business program admissions.

4. Specialty Master’s Degrees, Business Analytics & Tech Go ‘Boom’

Lower- and middle-tier schools have seen their full-time MBA programs decline to the point where they have been forced down an ugly path: locking the doors and turning out the lights. We’ve seen once-popular MBAs shuttered coast to coast, and B-school deans expect more to follow because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many schools have put the resources that would have gone into their residential MBA into online MBA programs (more on this development below). But the decline of what were once flagship programs has also sparked the rise of smaller programs that are more specialized, and in many cases customized, and that take one year rather than two. B-schools have given particular attention to the demand from industry for graduates with business analytics skills.

Not every major business school has launched a specialized master’s in business analytics in recent years — it just seems that way because companies want tech talent and schools want to give them what they want. But even for the few schools that haven’t gotten on board the biz analytics train — a group which includes, to date, a handful of the most elite institutions — the demand for graduates with data science skills has proven too great to ignore. Thus, the business analytics landscape is one with many contours. Concentrations and “pathways,” intra- and inter-school collaborations, certificates, and other approaches at the leading schools give those looking to work in fintech or data science or management analysis or any number of occupations a plethora of choices in the space.

The business analytics boom derives from a demand across sectors for those who can analyze big data so that decisions can emanate from it. The demand has become so great that graduates of these programs are securing very good employment rates and starting salaries, and MBA programs have followed suit: You can no longer get through any MBA program without a healthy dose of biz analytics. Not everyone needs a general management education; these days, everyone coming out of business school needs some data science skills.

Another factor that led to increased interest in one-year specialized master’s programs, especially for those without experience: the decline of corporate training programs. Companies don’t want to spend six months teaching new hires their jobs anymore — they want them to hit the ground running.

Other manifestations of the yawning chasm of industry demand for tech talent: the rise of one-year tech MBAs, most recently at Northwestern Kellogg; and the STEM movement that has seen B-schools increase their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics offerings — not only in one-year programs but also inside their full-time MBAs. Now every top-25 MBA program has some pathway to a STEM degree, whether through a concentration or joint degree — or because their entire MBA program, top to bottom, is designated STEM.