4 Takeaways From GMAC’s 2024 Prospective Students Report

4 Takeaways From GMAC’s 2024 Prospective Students Report

Candidates for business school continue to value format flexibility, and women are particularly attracted to hybrid programs that blend online and in-person learning

The Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual Prospective Students Survey always brims with data. So much so that one story is never enough to capture what it entails.

The primary takeaway from this year’s report is that candidates for graduate business education want diversity, they demand sustainability, and they crave more classroom content in artificial intelligence. More than two-thirds of the more than 4,000 respondents said they consider equity and inclusion to be important or very important to their academic experience; more than half said they wouldn’t consider a school that fails to prioritize them.

Sustainability, as we know from abundant other evidence (see here and here), is also an essential component: More than two-thirds of respondents to GMAC’s latest survey affirmed that it was important to them to attend a school that actively incorporates sustainability into the academic experience. And in the classroom, no surprise: Candidate demand for AI grew 38% year-over-year, with two-fifths now saying it is essential to a B-school’s curriculum.


But in so comprehensive a report as GMAC’s annual survey, there’s always more data that gets missed with a focus on the big numbers. Here are four other — but still important! — takeaways.

1. The two-year MBA is once again seen as preferred program type, regaining the top spot from the one-year MBA; and the Master of Management has gained in popularity.

The full-time, two-year MBA: a clunky dinosaur? No way! For the last five years the popularity of the traditional MBA has been consistently stable, even in the face of increased competition from online programs, specialized master’s, and alternative credentials. Last year, the one-year MBA supplanted its big brother for the first time in GMAC’s survey — but it was a short-lived shift. Prospective students once again see the two-year MBA as the best for their career prospects.

In a related development, interest in professional certifications as alternatives to B-school degrees has increased slightly since 2019, particularly among those interested in programs with more flexibility.

2. Candidates want more flexibility in how they learn, with hybrid programs gaining in popularity.

Hybrid learning continues its rise in popularity. Programs that are conducted partly online and partly in-person have seen their popularity increase globally in the past five years, though more so in some regions than others — hybrid study is more popular in Africa and North America, and less so Central and South Asia. Preference for in-person learning may be declining, but it remains the most preferred delivery format; and interest in programs with mostly online delivery remains stable.

A sizable constituency of candidates expresses a desire to spend at least half the time in the classroom — and nearly half of candidates who want to get a degree online do not believe it will be as valuable for their career prospects as a degree that comes from a program that is in-person. As GMAC has found in past years, women prefer hybrid programs more: 20% of women prospective students, and just 15% of men, have this preference.

3. Consulting is once again the most desired career destination of prospective B-school students.

Both millennials and Gen Z made consulting the top preferred post-graduate career destination, with technology — buffeted by industry-wide storms — the second-most popular choice for millennials and finance second-place for Gen Z. Inside B-school curricula, strategy and business analytics are the most popular components; problem-solving and data analysis and interpretation are the top skills they expect to learn from GME.

“Consistent with their curricular preferences,” GMAC’s report reads, “women expressed greater interest in consumer products, media and communication, and nonprofit sectors, while men are statistically more likely to seek careers in financial services, investment banking, and technology.”

4. Mobility shifts as affordability concerns spike

Beyond questions of flexibility, GMAC also studied candidate mobility. Even as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic diminishes, candidates in many countries are preferring to study at home in their country of citizenship, as multi-year survey data shows — a phenomenon that stretches from Asia to Latin America, from Africa to Eastern Europe.

China and India, two countries on which U.S. B-schools rely for significant populations within their graduate programs, are prime examples. In India, a majority of candidates in 2023 said they plan to apply domestically: up from 41% in 2022 to 53%. The reason: affordability and the growing reputation of India’s business schools. In China, the other top country from which U.S. schools get a large and avid annual influx, U.S. B-schools remain highly esteemed — but here again there are warning signs: “Interest in studying in the U.S. among candidates from Greater China has hit a five-year low” — down 9 percentage points since 2019 — “with a plurality of Chinese candidates now wanting to study in Western Europe in part due to its association with affordability.”

The U.S. remains the top study destination for most B-school candidates globally. But preferences seem to be shifting all over the globe, and affordability and more home-grown opportunities are the top reasons.

“As high-quality educational institutions and economic opportunities continue to rise in Asia, it is no surprise that many candidates would choose to stay closer to home instead of traveling afar,” says Curtis Alan Ferguson, managing partner of Ventech China and a board member of GMAC, in a news release accompanying the report. “That said, graduate business programs in the U.S. and Western Europe still enjoy quite an advantage because of their established reputations of the educational systems and well-rounded preparation for candidate careers.”

See GMAC’s 2024 Prospective Students Survey here


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