An MBA App Windfall At UNC’s Kenan-Flagler

Kenan-Flagler extended its final application deadline during the pandemic by more than three months and pioloted a GMAT/GRE test waiver. The result: A massive 43% rise in full-time MBA applications

You can put the Kenan-Flagler Business School in the plus column.

The business school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reporting a massive 43% rise in MBA applications, a windfall that has resulted in a much larger incoming class of full-time MBAs. The new class totals 344 students, up 37% over last year’s 252. Applications soared to 1,903 from 1,324 a year earlier.

“It’s definitely one for the books,” concludes Danielle Richie, senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment. “We increased the size of the class because we had so many strong, quality candidates that we really wanted to build a diverse class out of the increased pool. Some of the innovative things we did were able to attract a larger applicant pool.”

Richie’s decision to significantly extend the school’s final round 4 application deadline by more than three months to July 13th from April 6 was a major reason for the big upward swing in apps. “We extended the R4 deadline much longer than competitors,” points out Richie. “People were losing their jobs due to the economy and the extended deadlines allowed us to work with them.”


Danielle Richie, senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment at Kenan-Flagler Business School

She also attributes the increase to a pilot of GMAT and GRE test waivers. “We had strong candidates who lost their jobs and didn’t take the test because they didn’t have enough time to take it,” adds Richie, who notes that more than 60% of the newly enrolled students submitted test scores. “The test waiver was beneficial for those types of candidates.”

The school is continuing with its GMAT/GRE waiver policy for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Applicants can apply for a waiver by submitting an array of previous test scores on the SAT, ACT, LSAT or MCAT, or expired GMAT or GRE scores, or academic research in a STEM field, a master’s or Ph.D. degree in a technical field or professional certificates as a CPA or CFA, among others.

The 43% jump in applications is on the high side of increases this past year, outpacing Wharton’s 21% rise, UVA Darden’s 25%, and Columbia Business School’s 19% increase. But less than the 63% jump in apps at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business or the 60% increase at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School. Not every top school, of course, has benefited from the onset of a recession sparked by the pandemic. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently reported a 14% drop, while applications at Harvard Business School were essentially flat, up less than a single percent.


Despite the big increase in apps, it was not a record year. “It is like a roller coaster with the ebbs and flows of applications,” says Richie. “We typically will see this every ten or 12 years, but it was not a record year.”
Kenan-Flagler admitted 51% of its applicants, two percentage point below last year’s acceptance rate, sending invites to 962 candidates, up by 262 from the 700 applicants the school admitted in the previous year.

Not surprisingly, Kenan-Flagler saw a decline in international students in common with other U.S. business schools due to difficulty getting student visas and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. Only 8% of the incoming MBAs are from outside the U.S., down by more than half from the 17% last year. “A group of internationals deferred until next year, but it will not impact the incoming class next year,” adds Richie. “We started working with internationals much earlier. We didn’t wait until August. We communicated in April and May about their consideratios. We sent surveys to students to hear what they were thinking about. Maybe they had hesitations or limitations. We wanted to hear from them and continue to work with them.”

The school enrolled more women, by increasing its outreach efforts and working closely with the Forte Foundation and Carolina Women in Business. The percentage of women in this year’s MBA class rose to 31% from 29%, while underrepresented minorities remained stable at 12%. “We had a lot of touchpoints and white glove customer service, a lot more reaching out,” says Richie.


Despite the significant increase in the size of this year’s class, the school maintained its median GMAT score of 700, though the average score slipped just three points to 694, while the overall GRE scores advanced by two points. The range of GMATs in the Class of 2022 went from a low of 660, ten points higher than a year earlier, to a high of 720, 30 points lower than last year. Some 22% of the enrolled students submitted GRE scores which averaged 317, up from 315, and ranged from 310 to 322.

The average GPA went unchanged at 3.7 as did the average age of an incoming student at 27. Undergraduate GPAs ranged from 3.1 to 3.7, exactly the same as a year earlier.

“The type of student that we recruited hasn’t changed,” explains Richie. “But what I saw most is that this incoming class is really resilient. When the pandemic was changing things every day, they continued to move forward and I was amazed at how many students relocated to Chapel Hill.”


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.