Digging Deeper: Behind Cornell’s Incredible 20% Jump In MBA Apps

Cornell’s Andrew Karolyi

Why do you think in-person attendance at MBA events is down at so many schools this summer? Has it been down at Cornell? 

Applicants and students became accustomed to the convenience of remote attendance during the pandemic and are slowly returning to a culture of in-person attendance. We see that reflected in somewhat different cultures of event attendance between returning and incoming students. The second-year students still seek out hybrid events, whereas incoming students seem more eager to have entirely in-person experiences, including classes as well as events.

As we put the pandemic behind us, we anticipate sustained demand for in-person events but also some demand for a remote option, particularly when attendees can avoid travel by attending remotely.

How did Cornell manage to increase its apps by more than 20% in a cycle (2021-2022) when most other schools reported drop-offs? What’s the domestic/international breakdown for MBA apps for your school this year? 

We believe the increase in applications is in response to the advantages and opportunities provided by a Johnson MBA, including our immersion programming; strong placements in consulting, tech, and investment banking; and opportunities in entrepreneurship and at Cornell Tech, as well as the high salaries our graduates are offered after receiving their MBAs.

We received roughly two international applications for every domestic application, and we did admit somewhat more international students, moving from 35% to 43% international representation. One benefit of that increase is an increase in the diversity of our international student population, as we moved from 30 to 43 countries represented.

It’s a remarkable feat.

It is something that we are proud of, but we are also cautious about because we want to understand and interpret exactly what it is that happened there. I don’t think we have any answers. I mean, that’s the truth: We don’t have conclusive answers. We want to obviously give ourselves a lot of credit for the innovativeness of our programs, our marketing, and our incredibly top-flight admissions team under Eddie Asbie.

I’ll just say that we’re quite guarded about it. Like all of our competitors, we’re seeing the continuous escalation of pressures on what appears to be, from a macro standpoint, a declining pool of applicants stateside. The question is, how much do we lean into the opportunities to attract international students? Our numbers are going up.

Also, we clearly are very conscious about building out the importance of a diverse class that showcases all the riches of what can be a diverse class toward a learning experience. We all want that. So we’re prepared to put the resources behind that to be successful. It’s just too important for that program.

Let me cite a number for you that I just learned about last week. I’m on the board now on something called the United Nations Global Compact. This is from the Principles for Responsible Management Education, PRME for short. PRME is an organization that is talking about how the landscape for higher education and business is changing, and how it needs to change going forward.

One of the facts that they uncovered for us from UNESCO, in a typical year over the last six years, out of 300 million graduates around the world with, I think primarily undergraduate degrees, 66 million are associated with business. Those numbers are growing.

So it’s a really interesting thing to square up, isn’t it, with the decline of the MBA market and the fact that there is still an active interest in U.S. MBA programs in the international space. How much should each of our programs be leaning into that as an opportunity, and recognizing the global landscape for higher education and business in general, where there is a growing appetite for this kind of training? Just thinking through all of those dimensions of it, it’s really interesting to wrap our minds around it.


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