Hidden MBA Gems: These Schools Have More Applicants Per Seat Than Wharton

What is the most popular MBA program in the state of Pennsylvania?

If your answer is the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, you would be wrong. It’s certainly the highest ranked MBA in the state and one of the best in the world. Some 7.8 MBA applicants lined up for every available classroom seat at Wharton last year when the school enrolled the largest cohort in its history.

Yet, there was not one but two other business schools in Wharton’s home state that could rightly claim to be more in demand than Wharton: Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business and the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business. At Penn State, there were 9.38 MBA applicants per seat, while at Pittsburgh, there were 8.95 candidates for every classroom seat.


Surprising? Yes, but it’s hardly an anomaly in MBA admissions. While Stanford Graduate School of Business and MIT’s Sloan School of Management remain the full-time MBA programs with the highest demand, 16.8 applicants per seat at Stanford and 13.1 candidates per seat at MIT, there are many ranked full-time MBA programs that actually have more prospective students lined up for admission than Wharton or the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business (at 7.9 applicants per seat). Among the M7 schools, in fact, Wharton and Booth significantly trail their peer schools on this metric (see below table).

In fact, they fall behind several other prominent MBA programs at NYU Stern, UC-Berkeley Haas, and Yale School of Management. Last year, Stern had 11.5 applicants per seat, nearly four more applicants for every classroom seat than Wharton. Haas had 11.1 candidates per seat, while Yale had 9.9 applicants in its pool for every seat.


Yet, several often overlooked MBA programs boast surprisingly robust applicant pools, even if their yield rates (the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll) obviously lag Wharton or Chicago Booth (see table below). At the University of Rochester, the Simon School of Business attracted 11.5 candidates per seat last year for its full-time MBA program. The program's demand is partly if not wholly a result of its decision to gain STEM designation for its entire MBA program, a move that has boosted the number of applicants from overseas.

In some cases, schools outdo a Wharton or Booth due to their location. UC-Irvine's Merage School of Business, with a full-time MBA program ranked 57th in the U.S., had 11.2 applicants per seat last year, partly owing to its location in Southern California and a curriculum that emphasizes digital transformation. And Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, attracted 10.3 candidates per seat due largely to its New York City address that makes it a more desirable location for many internationals.

All of these programs, of course, are much smaller than the annual incoming cohorts entered by Wharton or Booth. They range in size from 102 students at Rochester to a cohort of a mere 21 students at Baruch. And their admit rates also pale in comparison to a Wharton, though even here there are some big surprises. Example: The admit rate at Simon last year was 24.5% versus Wharton's 23.1%. Nonetheless, you can make the case that these often overlooked hidden gems are more in demand than schools with brands that have global appeal.

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