Amid Southern Resurgence, Vanderbilt Sees Near Doubling Of MBA Apps

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Unlike many of its peer schools and others in the South, Vanderbilt’s increase in apps did not come at the expense of acceptance rate. With 1,200 apps and 514 admits — up from 380 last year — the school’s selectivity number actually shrank to about 43% from over 56% in 2019. That’s an improvement of more than 24%.

Meanwhile, most of the Southern schools that experienced application increases saw their acceptance rates climb as they admitted more students to make up for a collapse in international interest, the result of coronavirus-related travel issues and visa concerns exacerbated by years of charged immigration politics in the U.S. Duke Fuqua was the biggest exception; that school has maintained an identical amount of foreign MBA students in each of the last three intakes: 38%. (See table below.)

At Vanderbilt Owen, as at many other schools, deferrals granted to foreign admits contributed to further reduce already-low international numbers in the full-time MBA. The Owen School granted a total of 41 deferrals this year, up from 23 last year; its foreign MBA ranks fell from 14% to just 8%. Since 2016 the school’s international MBA population has decreased from 23.2%, a 65.5% decline.

Sue Oldham sees a turnaround in the near future, and not just because of the imminent arrival of this year’s deferees.

“Surprisingly, our international app volume over the past three years has actually increased,” she says. “We had 230 applications this year from international students as compared to 179 applications last year, which is really amazing. It doesn’t even seem to make sense. Our international application volume’s increasing. This year, it was difficult to yield them because of everything going on in the world. Obviously, several of them deferred.

“I couldn’t understand it, so I starting digging a little bit as to the increase in international applications in a world, again, where people are seeing it declining, especially the big schools. What we found from prospective students was that the reason they were attracted to Vanderbilt is they liked the personal scale. What they’re finding in this world is, when you’re one of 300 international students at a really large school, you might get lost in that shuffle. At a school like Vanderbilt, we’re small enough that we are in contact with the people that issue the visas to make sure that the pieces are updated. We know when they’re going to the consulate to get their appointment. We know when their interview is. We know when their flight is. We know when they’re landing in Nashville. That sense of security was really noticed by our international student population.”


Another way Vanderbilt Owen expects to keep drawing interest from applicants: giving them more flexibility in their applications. More applicants continue to submit Graduate Record Exam scores (18% of enrollees did so this year), and the school announced this month that it now accepts the Executive Assessment in place of the GRE or the Graduate Management Admission Test. The EA is a  90-minute test, compared to the four hours it takes to sit for the GMAT.

“It’s all part of our overall recruiting strategy around diversity and inclusion,” Oldham says. “We are all about removing barriers, even though having a test, some people would say that in and of itself is a barrier. We’re hearing a lot from prospective students that are like, ‘Listen, this GMAT or the GRE quite frankly, they’re long exams. Even if you can get to a test center, you’ve got to mask up. But there is a lot of interest around a 90-minute test. Even the prep time is just dramatically shorter. So again, we are just trying to be responsive and listen to what our prospective students are asking about. It just made sense that we would offer Executive Assessment.”

After accepting more test waiver requests this year, might Vanderbilt Owen eventually join the ranks of schools that abolish entrance exams altogether, in the short or long term?

“It’s definitely on the radar,” Oldham says. “I would say it’s not off the table yet. I think that’s part of how we crafted going into this year — meaning, instead of pretending that this rona thing is gone, we kind of went ahead and added the fact that we are accepting test waiver requests. It’s not that the test requirement is completely gone — here’s the waiver form. Here are all the things that we would take into consideration when you want to submit your waiver.

I just read about MIT, and I’m not sure who all is following in place. It’s on the table, because I know for several schools, the undergraduate side of the house might’ve already made that call and the business school might be doing something different. So again, we are just sort of listening to what people are asking for.”


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