The MBA slump did not happen everywhere in the United States. Applications to the full-time MBA program did not decline in 2019 at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, one of only two top-25 U.S. B-schools that could make that claim. Chicago escaped the cliff that other schools went over the last five years, steadily growing the size of its MBA while keeping its test score averages at an elite level and acceptance rate in the low- to mid-20% range.
But now that most (though not all) leading B-schools are reporting application increases in their first Covid-era MBA cohorts, signaling an end to the widely felt downturn, does that mean we can expect a reversal of fortune at Chicago Booth?
It does not. The Booth School released its MBA Class of 2022 profile this week showing more than 4,900 applications, a 10.7% increase over the year-earlier totals, after three rounds that ended in late May, and a class of 621 — both school records according to data collected by Poets&Quants. Booth also grew its minority ranks to 43% from 28% in 2019, a huge 54% jump, while maintaining its international student population at 30%, only 1 percentage point below last year’s level. And in one of the starkest differences in this year’s class profile, the percentage of enrollees who submitted Graduate Record Exam scores jumped by 10 points to 17%, catching Booth up somewhat with the trend across the top 50 schools.
Those achievements came at the expense of some other key metrics, however, such as women in the class, which dipped 2 points to 38%, and average score on the Graduate Management Admission Test, which fell six points to 724.
“This was a challenging year for everyone,” says Donna Swinford, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions to MBA programs at Chicago Booth. “The world changed for all of us almost overnight. Both schools and applicants had to shift gears very quickly, and I’m extremely proud of the resiliency I saw within our admissions team and our candidates. If you look at the timeline, three days before our Round Two decision, Illinois went into a lockdown. It was heartening to witness everyone’s spirit and ability to navigate such unprecedented challenges.”
BOOTH’S BIG ACCOMPLISHMENT: KEEPING FOREIGN STUDENTS IN THE FOLD
Chicago Booth tied with Midwestern neighbor Northwestern Kellogg for third place in the 2020 U.S. News ranking of U.S. MBA programs, which was released just before the coronavirus pandemic closed B-school campuses worldwide and forced instruction online for the remainder of the spring (Booth jumped two spots to land second in Poets&Quants‘ most recent list, released late last year). In response to Covid-19, the school extended its third round by 59 days, from April 2 to May 31, a move that paid dividends in helping the school get nearly 500 more applications overall, a 10.7% jump from the previous year.
Booth did experience a downturn in applicant interest two cycles ago, when apps dropped from a then-record 4,674 in 2017 to 4,289 in 2018, an 8.2% decline. But it bounced back with 4,433 apps last year, a 3.4% increase, at a time when the rest of the top 10 averaged 9.4% in losses. Overall since 2016, when Booth reported 4,160 apps to its MBA program, the school has seen an 18% increase.
Yet perhaps the most impressive stat in Booth’s Class of 2022 profile is not its record app total but its 30% internationals, and relatedly, the 56 countries from which they hail. These represent achievements that many schools — particularly those that offered deferrals like Harvard Business School and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business — were unable to match. The 30% is about where Booth has been each of the last three years, down from a high of 36% in 2017; the number of countries contributing MBA candidates to Chicago is up 14% in one year, and 42% of the new class were born outside the U.S. Most of Booth’s new MBA students not born in the U.S. are from Asia (11%).
“Throughout the summer, we felt it was important to be transparent with our international admits and maintain a constant and open line of communication with them as circumstances evolved,” Swinford tells Poets&Quants. “We collaborated with our financial aid team, Office of International Affairs, Student Life, dean’s office, and legal counsel to keep all of our admits updated in real time. We provided as much flexibility as possible with a hybrid learning model that allows international students to join in person whenever able.
“We also joined the amicus brief against immigration restrictions, wrote letters to ambassadors and embassies in support of emergency student visa appointments, provided letters from the dean to support entry into the U.S., and tracked their status until they were able to arrive in Chicago. We were in constant conversation with our international admits, had one-on-one touchpoints, and tried to provide helpful options for them to make the best decision for their specific situation. In terms of deferments, we grant deferrals on a case-by-case basis every year, however, we do not share that number.”
B-SCHOOL DEGREES & FINANCE BACKGROUNDS COMMON
Last year, 29% came to the Booth MBA program with a business undergrad degree and 22% with an economics degree. Additionally, 20% had engineering degrees; 15% had liberal arts degrees; and 9% had physical sciences degrees. MBA candidates with law degrees comprised 1% of last year’s incoming class. This year, 28% have a business degree, 24% economics, 21% engineering, 13% liberal arts, 10% physical sciences, and 5% “other.” Many — 19% — already have graduate-level degrees.
The school’s undergraduate GPA average remained the same, 3.60, with a range of 2.80 to 4.00. The class comes from 256 undergrad institutions.
Finance was king for the Booth Class of 2021, with 21% coming from financial services backgrounds and another 8% from private equity/venture capital; consulting was next with 25%, followed by technology (10%), nonprofit/government (10%), “other” (9%), healthcare (5%), consumer products (3%), energy (3%), and 2% each in accounting, manufacturing, and arts/media/entertainment. This year, once again, finance (20%) and PE/VC (8%) combine to lead the way, with consulting again second at 25%. The rest of the class looks like this: “other” (12%), tech (11%), nonprofit/government (10%), healthcare (5%), energy (4%), consumer products (3%), and manufacturing (2%).
“Our admits have been faced with one change after another, and their capacity for dealing with ambiguity was tested almost immediately upon being admitted,” Swinford says. “We’re proud of how all of our admitted students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, families, and other members of our community have stepped up during this time. This fall, we welcomed another incredibly impressive class that represents a wide range of industries, backgrounds, regions, and career interests, but most notably, represents the resilient, bold, and supportive nature that we see in the most successful Boothies.”