Rising costs of graduate programs continue to be a top concern among students actively searching for an advanced degree, according to a new survey by Niche, a college and university search platform.
Affordability, in fact, was the only major concern shared by a majority of survey respondents, with 84% saying they were worried they wouldn’t be able to afford an advanced degree. Similarly, a majority of searchers reported that COVID has complicated both their academic preparation and ability to finance a return to the classroom.
The Niche Grad Searcher Survey was conducted between March 11 and April 17 with 6,348 respondents searching for graduate programs. It is the second year Niche has completed the survey.
“Our survey of graduate program searchers sheds a lot of light on why people choose to go to grad school. A lot of searchers are doing so because it’s required for their preferred path, of course, but there are a significant number of career changers.” said Will Patch, senior enrollment insights leader at Niche. “Of the searchers pursuing a second degree, 42% are looking outside of their current field. Some may already be doing that type of work, but we shouldn’t underestimate people wanting a new challenge and look to a certificate, Master’s, or doctoral degree to help them get there.”
COST & CAREER OUTCOMES MAJOR CONCERNS
While cost was a concern for Niche survey respondents, they weren’t the most important factor. Career outcomes were identified as the most important factor when deciding if and where to pursue a graduate degree. Some 72% of respondents reported outcomes were “very important” with another 22% saying they were “important.” Financial aid was the second most important factor (70% and 23% respectively) followed by price (69% and 23%).
Meanwhile, 37% of searchers say that program reputation is more important than the university as a whole and only 4% say that the university’s reputation is more important than a specific program.
Cost concerns in the Niche survey echo those from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual Prospective Students Survey released in April. GMAC polled 6,500 people interested in graduate business education in more than 150 countries, finding that while concerns about inflation, the job market, and the rising cost of an MBA are on the minds of candidates for graduate business education, most continue to have a positive view of the potential impact of a graduate business degree to their professional and personal growth.
In terms of program format, in-person classes are still the most popular with 80% of searchers considering on-campus-only programs, 70% looking at hybrid enrollments, and 62% looking at online-only programs. Of those considering an online program, half want it to be offered by an institution with a physical presence and only 22% prefer it to come from a fully online institution.
WHAT PROSPECTIVE MBA STUDENTS ARE LOOKING FOR
The Niche survey also parses its data into several different advance degree programs, providing some insight into what MBA seekers want in a program. Of the 6,300 respondents, 5% were searching for MBA programs and 9% were looking for non-MBA advanced business programs or certificates.
For example, people looking for MBA programs were the only group to report that price was a more important factor than financial aid when choosing a program. That’s hardly surprising. In 2021, it cost $200,000 or more to earn an MBA at 14 B-schools. The average price tag for the top 25 programs in our latest ranking was $199,544.
The Niche survey found that MBA searchers were the least likely group to start looking for programs as undergrads. That makes sense since an MBA is popular for people looking to pivot careers or advance in their current field. MBA searchers were, according to the survey, the most likely group to be motivated by career advancement opportunities while 37% reported being motivated by a planned career change.
Further, just 7% of MBA prospects find a small cohort appealing, the lowest of any option, while 9% are looking for cohorts of more than 50.
WHAT NON-MBA BUSINESS STUDENTS ARE LOOKING FOR
For students interested in advanced business degrees or certificates other than an MBA, fully online programs were much more accepted.
While across the full survey sample, only 22% were considering programs offered by fully-online institutions, compared to 26% for graduate business students–the highest of any other advanced degree seeker.
Similar to MBA seekers, this group is also more likely to be motivated by career pivots than other degree seekers, and more than 10% reported that they were looking because of a jobb loss.
HOW PROSPECTIVE GRAD STUDENTS PLAN TO PAY FOR PROGRAMS
Asked how they plan to pay for graduate school, 69% of searchers overall said that they planned to use scholarships, 52% planned to take on loans for part or all of their education, and 38% planned to pay out of pocket. Company tuition benefits are being used by 14% of searchers, and only 9% of searchers said that they have not yet considered how they will pay for their program.
At 21%, respondents looking for graduate certificates are the most likely to be using company tuition assistance.
For ideas on financing your MBA or business degree, check out these two HBS students who saved thousands by organizing other MBA students for collective bargaining. You’ll find more financing advice in our financing hub.
Find Niche’s full survey results here.