MBA Applications At The Top U.S. B-Schools: Where They’re Up, Where They’re Down

Applications are down at most of the leading MBA programs in the United States as a strong economy keeps many from returning to school

It’s no secret that business school applications were down in the United States in the 2021-2022 cycle. B-schools themselves rang the alarm bells throughout the spring and summer as the economy kept humming along and likely candidates opted to stay in the workforce. Poets&Quants has written extensively about the decline — and the lucky schools that dodged the bullet.

But looking at all the data for the leading U.S. B-schools, an interesting fact emerges: a clear line of demarcation between the elite schools and those in the second tier. And it’s the top-10 (and adjacent) B-schools that were hit hardest by the downturn.

In all, 16 of the top 25 U.S. B-schools saw declines in MBA applications last cycle, compared to just six schools the previous cycle. But the damage was not evenly distributed up and down the P&Q 2022 MBA ranking: Every one of the top-10 schools for which we have data reported declines; going down the ranking, the first B-school with a positive year-to-year change is No. 15 Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, which added 450 apps in 2021-2022 to its previous-year total, a 21.4% increase to 2,555. Cornell is also the top-ranked B-school to report app gains across two years, having added 683 (36.5%) since the pandemic cycle of 2019-2020.


Nine schools had MBA application gains in 2021-2022, compared to 19 in the previous cycle, with an average gain of 246 apps and 17.6% (compared to 3.2% last year). None is ranked higher than 15th. The biggest one-year gain in both raw numbers and percentage came at No. 19 UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, which added 481 apps, or more than 32%, to its previous-year total (see table below).

MIT Sloan School of Management saw the biggest one-year drop-off in applications, down 1,763 or nearly 25% to 5,349. Sloan had gained 12% between the previous two cycles. Noteworthy declines also occurred at Stanford Graduate School of Business (-1,215 to 6,152), Harvard Business School (-1,509 to 8,264), the Wharton School (-1,019 to 6,319), and Chicago Booth School of Business (-685 to 4,352) — all M7 schools.

Two top-10 B-schools, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, were the only ones in the P&Q top 25 not to report application totals this cycle. Across the rest of the top 10, the average decline was 921 apps, and 14.2%. Across the 16 schools with declines in the top 27, the drop-off was less steep: 593 apps, and 12%.


Looking at the two-year window from 2019-2020 to 2021-2022, 10 schools in the top 27 are up and 15 are down. The biggest drop-off in raw numbers occurred at Stanford, which dropped by 1,172; and by percentage, at both Stanford and USC Marshall School of Business, which each declined by 16%. The latter school lost more than 500 apps in that span to this year's total of 2,652. See table below for details.

Going down the P&Q ranking, the first B-school to show positive change in the two-year window is No. 11 Duke Fuqua School of Business, which grew its total by 183 (5.5%) to 3,539 this year; notably, Duke's total was down 5.9% from 2020-2021. The biggest two-year increase in number of apps occurred at Michigan Ross, which gained 1,065, or 41.5%, to 3,632; in percentage, Indiana Kelley School of Business jumped more than 88% in two years, up 644 apps to 1,372.

In the top 10 across two years, the average decline was 710 applications, and 10.8%. None of the eight top-10 B-schools for which we have enough data for comparison gained apps in that span. Across all 15 schools with declines from 2019-2020 to 2021-2022, the average decline was 461 apps, and 9.1%. The average gain at the 10 schools that are up in that span was 321 apps, and 22.1%.

LISTEN TO OUR BUSINESS CASUAL PODCAST: The MBA App Decline: Just Another Cycle Or A Major Reset?

See the next page for three years of MBA application data at the top U.S. business schools. 

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