Columbia Sets New MBA Application Record: Nearly 7,000

Columbia Business School’s incoming Class of 2022 is 40% women and 44% international. File photo

Like many of its peers, Columbia Business School extended its final MBA application deadline this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which closed campuses and shut down operations just as most schools were winding down their 2019-2020 application seasons. Columbia responded by lengthening its season by 51 days, from the original final deadline date of April 10 to June 1 — and the results, reported by the school today (August 31), seem to prove the wisdom of the move.

Reversing a two-year slide, Columbia saw a huge increase in total MBA applications and an incoming Class of 2022 that is much larger than — and at the same time remarkably similar in key metrics to — the Class of 2021. In its new class profile, CBS reports an MBA application total of 6,971, up from 5,876 for the fall of 2019 — an increase of more than 1,000, or 18.6%. That blows away the school record of 6,188 set in 2016-2017. The school admitted 1,130, only slightly more than last year’s 1,122, dropping its acceptance rate to 16.2% from last year’s 19.1%; CBS also enrolled more: 782, a 3.7% increase on last year’s class of 754. That compares to Harvard Business School, which this fall is enrolling an MBA class that is more than 200 students shy of its more typical 930- to 940-student cohort (see Harvard Business School’s Next MBA Class Will Be More Than 200 Students Short).

Columbia, different from most of its peer schools, has two intakes per year; the class for August entry grew this year from 551 to 571, and the January class grew a bit as well, from 203 to 211.

That’s not all the good news for the school. After a two-year hiatus, Columbia rejoined the select group of elite B-schools with 40% or more women in the full-time MBA, notching upward to 40% from 38%, and the school kept its international population high despite the headwinds of coronavirus and U.S. government antipathy to all forms of immigration, slipping only modestly to 44% from 47%. Average undergraduate GPA also remained the same, at 3.60; however, Columbia’s average Graduate Management Admission Test score declined for the second year in row, to 726 from 727 last year, down from a school record 732 in 2018.


“What’s remarkable to me about the data that was just released in this crazy cycle for the entering class of 2020,” says Linda Abraham, founder of MBA admissions consultancy Accepted, “is how little has changed despite the pandemic and consulate closures. The class is starting its MBA studies during a period when ‘unprecedented’ is the most common description of the times. And yet, with one glaring exception, the profile is little changed from 2019.”

The glaring exception: application volume. Abraham points out that not only did Columbia extend its final application round by more than 50 days, it also extended the final date for test score submission even further, to July 1. The result: “a whopping 18.6% increase in applications,” an increase that serves as “testimony to the effective work of the CBS admission team in getting out the word that they welcome COVID round applications,” Abraham tells Poets&Quants.

“Average GMAT dropped by an insignificant one point from 727 to 726. The average GPA is the same. The age and experience of the classes are remarkably similar.”

Other similarities between the two years: GMAT range in 2019 was 560-790; in 2020, 580-780. Average work experience was five years in the Class of 2021, and five years in the Class of 2022, too. Minorities of U.S. origin were at 33% in both classes, a level that last year put Columbia third among all top-25 schools. Also last year: Columbia admitted a 22-year-old and a 51-year-old; but this year, while the school admitted a 23-year-old, its age ceiling was much lower, 41.

One number that really jumped out at Abraham: international students. In the midst of a pandemic, when the policies of the U.S. government have been anything but welcoming to foreign students, a decline in international enrollment seemed likely. Perhaps at some schools that will be the case. But not at Columbia.

“International citizens went down from 47% to 44%,” Abraham notes. “That fairly small drop is impressive considering the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S., consulate closures, and difficulty in obtaining visas that many international students face. I suspect that CBS’s hybrid or ‘Hy-Flex’ approach played a major role in keeping that number as high as it is.”

Source: Columbia Business School


Last fall, the largest group of Class of 2021 students came from the financial services sector, accounting for 29% of the entering students. No surprise — it’s Wall Street! Consulting backgrounds made up 23% of that class, while marketing and media represented another 15%. Students from the tech industry made up 7% of the class, while those with healthcare backgrounds represented 5%. Columbia students with military and government work experience amounted to just 4% of the class; real estate 3%; energy 2%; and manufacturing 1%.

This year, Wall Street was again the source of most of Columbia’s MBAs, with nearly a third, 30%, coming from the industry. Consulting stayed stable as the work background of 23%, while marketing/media notched downward to 14%. Technology increased to 8%, and healthcare dipped to 4%.

In the fall of 2019, the vast majority of Columbia’s new MBA class had majored in business (22%) or economics (19%), followed by engineering (17%), social sciences (14%), the humanities (8%), sciences (7%) and technology (1%). This year, business is even more represented, with 29% of the class having majored in it, and economics ticked upward as well, to 20%. Engineering, social sciences, humanities, and sciences all stayed the same at 17%, d 14%, 8%, and 7%, respectively; while tech inched upward to 3%.


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