MBA Applications Soaring At Many Business Schools

MBA applications have already staged a rebound at many business schools. Expect the trend to continue big time this coming year

Not all that long ago, several business schools were closing down their full-time residential MBA programs. For several years, most schools reported declining interest in a graduate program that would require them to quit their jobs and spend two years on a business school campus.

Well, that was yesterday. With the pandemic recession in full bloom, business schools all over the world are reporting big increases in applications, particularly at schools that extended their application deadlines last spring with the outbreak of COVID. The rebound has led a number of schools to enroll record numbers of incoming students this fall.

Many MBA programs have already seen double-digit increases in apps, reversing several years of decline. A few highly prominent schools, in fact, have already reported new records in MBA application volume, including Columbia Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. At Columbia, for example, applications rose by more than 18% to nearly 7,000. The school’s MBA application total came to 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.


And the increases have occurred at a wide variety of schools. Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business saw a massive 63% jump in applications in the 2019-2020 admissions season. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business experienced a 25% increase, while applications to Wharton’s MBA program soared by 21%, even though Wharton only extended its application season by two weeks. At Wharton, 7,158 candidates vied for little more than 900 classroom seats, itself an expansion of the enrolled class by 7%. That translated into an increase of more than 1,200 applicants from the year-earlier total of 5,905. At least two other prominent top 20 business schools, based on preliminary data obtained by Poets&Quants, are about to report double-digit boosts to their app totals.

The upswing is not merely a U.S. story. Many European business schools are reporting big bumps in their app volume as well. At the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, applications have jumped 35% this year compared with year-earlier levels. Imperial College Business School in London has seen a 41% jump in full-time MBA apps year-over-year, while Warwick Business School has reported a 56% rise.

The reasons behind the rebound are simple. Historically, MBA applications go up when the economy goes down as prospective applicants escape from a deteriorating job front. So the demand for the quintessential career degree tends to be countercyclical. That was the major reason for the decline in applications in the past few years: the economy was so strong that prospective MBA students saw plenty of opportunities in front of them without having to go back to school.  When a recession kicks in, however, the opportunity cost of taking a career break to update skills and build a professional network goes down–and applications zoom up.


What will happen in the current admissions 2020–2021 cycle? MBA admission consultants are uniformly experiencing record business, up dramatically at some firms by 50% or more from last year. Traffic at Poets&Quants is also at record levels, highest in the ten years the website has been in existence.

Shari Hubert, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business which saw a 10.5% increase in applications, says the numbers were trending up even before COVID-19 hit. She expects apps to keep rising. Last week, Columbia Business School told MBA admission consultants during a webinar that applications for its early decision deadline of Oct. 4–at that point four weeks early–were already up 5%.

Here’s a guide to all the articles we’ve run on the uptick:

Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business: Up 63%. See: Poets&Quants | Massive Jump In Apps, Enrollment For The Rice Jones MBA

University of Virginia Darden School of Business: Up 25%. See: Poets&Quants | At UVA Darden, A ‘Crazy’ 364% Jump In Round 3 MBA Applications

Columbia Business School: Up 18.6%. See: Poets&Quants | Columbia Sets New MBA Application Record: Nearly 7,000

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School: Up 21%. Poets&Quants | MBA Applications To Wharton Soar By 21% To A New Record

Duke University Fuqua School of Business: Up 10.5%. See: Poets&Quants | Another Top School Joins The 2020 Reversal-Of-Fortune Party: Apps Climb At Duke

Yale School of Management: Up 8.1%. See: MBA Apps Rise 8.1% At Yale, Reversing Two-Year Slide

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business: Up 5.4%. Poets&Quants | Applications Are Up At UC-Berkeley Haas, But Acceptance Rate Jumps, Too

Emory University Goizueta Business School: Up 4.4%. See: Poets&Quants | Meet Emory Goizueta’s MBA Class Of 2022

New York University Stern School of Business: Up 3.8%. See: 3 Records For NYU Stern’s MBA Class Of 2022, But A Much Smaller Class

Harvard Business School: Up 0.86%. See: Harvard Enrolls Smallest MBA Class In Decades


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