Is An MBA App Slump Coming? New Evidence Of A ‘Buyer’s Market’

Is 2021-2022 a good time to apply to business school? One top consultancy says yes

2020 saw perhaps the biggest boom in MBA applications ever. 2021 continued the trend, though signs of a return to normalcy were abundant. Now we get a glimpse into the future showing that applications to MBA programs may be about to decline once more — with the chief culprits the Delta variant of the coronavirus and a booming job market.

Which means the current application cycle may be the best time for candidates to apply to B-school.

Top admissions consultancy Accepted released the results of a survey of about 250 visitors to its website today (October 28) about the impact of the economy and other developments on the current app cycle. The bottom line: “The booming job market coupled with the emergence of the Delta variant spells ‘o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y’ for MBA applicants and those contemplating an MBA,” writes Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.

37% CONCERNED ABOUT DELTA VARIANT OF COVID-19

Poets&Quants examines application data each year for all of the top-25 ranked B-schools in the U.S. The 2019-2020 cycle, interrupted as it was by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, was simply unprecedented, reversing years of declines for most top schools in the U.S. and Europe thanks to a combination of strategies employed by the schools to offset the chaos of the global health crisis. In 2020-2021, apps to join the MBA Class of 2023 were up again — 19 schools saw year-over-year increases despite coming off huge jumps, and seven schools set new application records last cycle. But they were really up compared to the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 season, with all but one school improving its total over the three cycles.

While seven schools in the top 25 saw double-digit one-year gains, an incredible 18 saw double-digit two-year gains. Overall for the 25 leading schools in the U.S., apps grew 3.2% this year — but they’re up 17.6% compared to 2019.

Now, before any schools have finished their current app cycles, Accepted has taken the temperature of potential candidates for MBA programs and found a significant number are changing their plans or contemplating doing so as a result of world events, which could spell the end of the MBA app boom. While 71% say they the strong economy won’t change their plans, 14% are having second thoughts and 15% say it has led them to put off their applications.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus seems to be having an even greater effect: 54% are ignoring it, but 20% are concerned, and 17% are holding off or canceling their application plans altogether. The picture at individual schools, however, could be quite different. At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Businness, round one application volume this fall doubled to reach its highest level in ten years.

MORE SCHOLARSHIP MONEY UP FOR GRABS?

That level of interest may not be sustained if the survey proves right. “The significance for applicants is that the MBA admissions market is changing from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market,” Abraham tells P&Q.

“As you know, economic expansion usually leads to a decline in MBA application volume. And we are experiencing quite a post-Covid boom. At the same time, schools are slowly trying to return to normal, but there are still returns to online (as Harvard Business School has experienced) and limited global experiential opportunities.

“If MBA wannabes have a competitive test score and requisite experience and qualifications, they are more likely this cycle to get accepted and even to be wooed with scholarship money — much like in the lean (application) years of 2017-19 — than last year. It is a good time to apply.”

Abraham adds that there are also other signs of application decline this cycle, “notably the absence of any school that I know of talking about a great Round 1.”

DON’T MISS MBA APPLICATIONS CLIMBED IN 2020-2021 AT 19 OF THE 25 TOP B-SCHOOLS and COVID-19 PUTS B-SCHOOLS’ MBA APP PLUNGE FIRMLY IN THE PAST 

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