The first thing you notice about the new MBA class at UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business is the small class size. For the second year in a row, the Haas School — already one of the smallest top-tier MBA programs — has reduced its class by dozens of seats. The current class, announced earlier this month, is 247 students, down from 291 last fall and 331 in fall 2020.
Eric Askins, executive director of full-time admissions at Haas, points to the obvious reason: the coronavirus cohort of 2020 was unusually large, given Haas’ (and other schools’) increased capacity with remote learning. Askins adds that future Haas full-time MBA classes won’t be formed based on an arbitrary number of seats, but by “market demand.”
“We don’t set a specific class target size each year,” Askins tells Poets&Quants, adding that in 2016 the Haas School enrolled 252 students, though it had increased by about 30 seats by the following year. “Our class size often adjusts to meet market demand. Our first priority remains bringing in a class of exceptionally talented professionals.
“The 2020 incoming class was larger than other classes because the uncertainty around the pandemic drove more business school applications,” Askins continues. “We were excited to accommodate that year’s remote start class through our technological investments. Yet our goal was always to bring the full-time MBA experience back to a fully in-person experience and to right-size the program accordingly.”
FEELING THE EFFECTS OF THE APP DOWNTURN
We don't know the full effect, if any, of the MBA application downturn at Haas because unlike previous years, Haas declined to reveal its application volume in the 2021-2022 cycle. (The other top-10 B-school to decline to report apps is Northwestern Kellogg.) What we do know is context and history. Last year, Haas — like 18 other top-25 B-schools in the United States — saw an increase in apps of about 4%, to more than 3,800, its second-most in one cycle after drawing more than 4,100 in 2016-2017. Having flown so high, it makes sense amid the continued strong economy and other macro factors that the school would experience a snap-back this year.
"We’ve seen the data from GMAC on the decrease in test takers in the U.S.," Askins says in acknowledging the widespread application downturn affecting most U.S. business schools. "Haas, and I imagine our peers, probably all felt the effects. Our school and our leadership team are equipped to adapt to market demand, as we’ve done for decades."
Depending on the severity, an app decline at Haas would hardly be an outlier: Applications to full-time MBA programs in 2021-2022 dropped just about everywhere. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania saw a 14% decline in apps, and Harvard Business School was down 15.4%. At Michigan Ross the loss was 9.3%; at NYU Stern, 10%. The largest-reported app decline has occurred at UCLA Anderson, which lost 20% of its total year to year.
Declines on the milder side have occurred at Duke Fuqua (6%), Georgetown McDonough (5.4%), and Virginia Darden, where they fell just 3.5%. So far one top-25 B-school, Cornell Johnson, has reported actually growing its apps this year — and by an astonishing 21%.
46% WOMEN & 41% INTERNATIONALS IN THE CLASS OF 2024
Probably the biggest sore point for Haas last year was its regression in the enrollment of women. The only top-10 business school under 40% women in the full-time MBA, Haas actually backslid slightly, to 37% from 39%, even as one peer school, Wharton, achieved gender parity and others inched closer.
This year, however, Haas joins those schools on the precipice of parity, with a 9-percentage-point leap in women in the MBA. It's a school record, and, Askins says, a point of pride.
"This is indeed the closest the school has come to gender parity and represents a significant effort by the admissions team and our student community to reach out to prospective students," he says. "Ultimately, it’s the strength of our program, including our Center for Gender Equity, Gender and Leadership, faculty like Laura Kray, our student leaders in Women in Leadership and our partnerships with organizations like the Forte Foundation, that have helped us reach a broader array of prospective students."
And while domestic interest has declined, international interest in MBA programs is on the rise, at Haas and elsewhere. This year's 41% international composition of the MBA class is not a record — that was 43% in 2014 — but represents an increase from 37% last year.
"We’ve long benefited from the global brand recognition of UC-Berkeley and of Berkeley Haas," Askins says. "Interest in our program has held firm globally, though we’ve seen shifts in interest within the international community. This year’s 41% is well in line with prior years."
Students identifying as LGBTQ remained high, at 16% of the class, while 4% are veterans. Thirteen percent of the class are first-generation college students.