It has been apparent for some time that the strong U.S. economy is driving down domestic applications to MBA programs. For many top B-schools in the U.S. — but, crucially, not all — growth in international demand has offset losses on the home front.
The annual Application Trends Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council, released today (October 26), confirms these facts with data, and adds much more to what we know. Its primary finding is that total applications to graduate business schools — including MBAs and other master’s programs like accounting, management, and business analytics — dipped from the pandemic-level spikes, slipping 3.4% year-on-year among a matched sample of programs. Apps during the coronavirus pandemic had grown 2.4% in 2020 and stayed flat in 2021.
Apps to full-time U.S. MBA programs dipped 2.2%. But the decline was not only felt by residential MBA programs. Some 76% of online MBA programs, 75% of part-time MBA programs, and 67% of executive MBA programs also had fewer applicants. In fact, it was the second consecutive year of application declines for U.S. online MBA programs after a 2020 pandemic boom.
Ever the sunny optimists, GMAC focuses on the good news in the survey: that international applications to U.S. programs bounced back in a big way in 2022, with 80% of two-year MBA programs and 61% of STEM-designated programs reporting international application growth. In Europe as well, GMAC reports, most MBA programs either saw stability or more applications from abroad this year.
MBA APPS DOWN OVERALL AT ALL BUT 3 TOP-25 B-SCHOOLS
The GMAC report tends to undercount the actual decline in full-time MBA programs experienced by many of the top business schools. In many cases, those declines were the result of an extraordinary drop in domestic applicants, approaching a 30% decline at many programs. MBA applications to full-time MBA programs declined across the B-school landscape in 2021-2022. The worst hit was MIT Sloan School of Management, which saw a 24.8% decline in apps, but the Sloan School was hardly alone. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania saw a 14% decline, and Harvard Business School was down 15.4%. Stanford was down 16.5%, second-worst among M7 schools (though one M7 school, Northwestern Kellogg, declined to report an application total this year). Chicago Booth saw a 13.6% decline, while fellow M7 school Columbia was down 5.5%. Yale SOM’s apps were down 16.5%. At Michigan Ross the loss was 9.3%; at NYU Stern, 10%. One of the largest-reported app declines so far 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%. Texas McCombs dropped 11.2%.
Nor was the downturn confined to the U.S.: London Business School’s apps were down this year by 15%.
With all of the U.S. top 25 Class of 2024 profiles now made public, we know that only three top-25 U.S. B-schools have reported increases in applications from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022: Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, where apps were up by more than 21%; UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, where they were up an incredible 32%; and USC Marshall School of Business, where they were up nearly 10%.
VISA PROBLEMS PERSIST FOR SOME NIGERIAN & INDIAN STUDENTS
GMAC’s 2022 Application Trends Survey was conducted between July and September, with application figures submitted by 950 programs of 264 business schools in 33 countries worldwide. The annual survey is in its 24th year.
Its authors note that opposing trends in domestic and international applications defined the market for U.S. programs this year.
- Among U.S. programs that responded to both this year’s and last year’s surveys, there was a 25% decline in domestic applications and a 19% increase in international applications. This netted out to a 2.2% decline in total applications.
- Most programs reported an increase in international applications (54%), while less than 1 in 4 reported increases in domestic applications (24%).
- Via open-end responses, several U.S. programs noted significant issues were still affecting their international admits navigating the visa process. “We saw more international students, specifically from Nigeria and India, have their student visa applications denied on their first attempts — something we had not seen as prevalent in year’s past,” one school responded.
- Across program types, those that are STEM-certified were more likely to report international application increases than those that are not (61% versus 49%).
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