The University of Washington Foster School of Business was one of the few top-25 programs to miss out on the big rebound in full-time MBA applications in the pandemic cycle of 2019-2020 — barely; the school reported three fewer apps total than the year before. Numbers for the most recent cycle that concluded in spring 2021 have not yet been published; but seeing most of its peer programs go test-optional amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and based on the reaction to a test-optional approach in some of its other programs, Foster’s leadership concluded that the time had come to take the plunge in its full-time MBA. The school announced Thursday (July 8) that admission to the Foster MBA will be test-optional in the next cycle, which is now underway.
“The goal of the move to a standardized test-optional admissions policy is to allow Foster its best chance to compose a diverse, high-quality class of full-time MBA students using fair, rigorous, evidence based processes and that positions Foster well for the future with respect to our purpose and competitive trends,” says Wendy Guild, assistant dean of Full-Time, Evening, and Global MBA programs at Washington Foster.
“Our primary motivation for this policy change is to expand access to our program to those that might find a standardized test to be a barrier to application to our program for a host of reasons. We have historically reviewed applications holistically, and feel confident that we can evaluate candidate readiness without a test score.”
ONE OF A FEW SCHOOLS NOT TO GET A BOOST IN 2019-2020 CYCLE
Ranked 21st by Poets&Quants and 22nd by U.S. News, Washington Foster becomes at least the 68th B-school in the top 100 in the United States to carve out some kind of path to admission for applicants who have taken neither the Graduate Management Admission Test nor the Graduate Record Exam, nor any other entrance exam such as the Executive Assessment (see table below for an updated list of schools). Fully half — 12 — of the top 25 B-schools now offer ways to get in without sitting for a test. According to Foster’s new policy, “Any applicant who is able to demonstrate strong quantitative skills through their prior academic work and/or recent professional experiences may apply for admission to the Full-Time MBA Autumn 2022 entry without a standardized test score (GMAT or GRE). International applicants are still strongly encouraged to submit a valid standardized test score as part of the application process given the competitiveness of the international applicant pool.”
Foster’s other admissions criteria remain unchanged, the school announced.
After years of application declines, most top B-schools saw a reversal beginning in the late rounds of 2019-2020, as most schools extended deadlines or waived test requirements (or both) in response to the onset of the pandemic. Not so at the Foster School. Though Foster did add a fourth round that cycle extending more than two months from March 17 to May 19, 2020, it did not waive or make optional the test requirement, and the app windfall never arrived: Foster’s total for the cycle was 833, three fewer than it received in 2018-2019. It was one of only four schools in the top 25 to miss the pandemic app surge.
The decline, minor though it was, continued a slump for Washington Foster that began in the 2017-2018 cycle, when the school saw its MBA applications drop from a record 1,038 to 934. Counting that most recent backward movement, the Foster School lost 19.7% of its app volume in three cycles.
“There has been a lot of discussion of the use of test-optional and waivers to increase applicant volume,” Guild tells Poets&Quants. “At Foster, this is not our focus. Our focus is on expanding access. The jump in applications experienced by some schools last year wasn’t a part of our decision process on this policy change.”
Guild says “it would be disingenuous to say” other schools’ move to test-optional did not play a role in Foster’s decision. “This is a much bigger conversation, but I would say that the world of graduate management education has changed a great deal in the last 1.5 years. Of course we are attentive to what is happening in our industry, and this is important context for the choices we face,” she says. “But, our decisions are driven by our commitment to live our purpose. Our school leadership is very purpose-driven and everyone at Foster is laser-focused on building and maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community that works together to foster leaders, insights, and progress to better humanity.
“If we were just chasing the competition or playing games with application volume, we would stray too far from our purpose. The decision to go test-optional was taken because it allows us to best live our purpose.”
SCHOOL HIGHLIGHTS STEM OPTION
Foster’s Full-time MBA program required standardized tests (GMAT or GRE) in the last admissions cycle to compose its Class of 2023. But the school’s Evening MBA, Hybrid MBA, and Technology Management MBA all introduced the opportunity to apply for a standardized test waiver in the last admissions cycle. “To learn about the impact of this policy on our community, we compared the academic performance of those admitted with a waiver to the academic performance of those that were not admitted with a waiver,” Guild says. “There was no statistically significant difference. This result supported our choice to move to test-optional for the Full-time MBA program.”
For a school that prides itself on international diversity, perhaps even more alarming than the overall app decline was Washington Foster’s loss of nearly 20% of its foreign MBA student enrollment between fall 2017 and fall 2019. The school saw another decline in the 2019-2020 cycle, which can be partly blamed on the 24 deferments it granted; according to Foster’s class data, its international student population declined 5 percentage points in one year, from 29% to 24%, a 17% drop.
Seeking to mitigate further losses, Foster last fall announced a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics pathway in its MBA, which students can earn in the standard two-year MBA degree pathway with a precise selection of electives. Again in its new announcement of test waivers Thursday — along with mentions of Foster’s membership in The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Forté, ROMBA, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow — the school reiterated its STEM option, saying those pursuing it would not be affected by the test-optional policy.
Foster’s MBA classes number around 110 each year; the school has not yet released Class of 2023 data, which typically includes application data.
3 ADMISSION ROUNDS FOR AUTUMN 2022 ENTRY
Foster’s application is now open; more information is available on its Admissions FAQ page. The school will offer three admissions rounds for applicants to the full-time MBA autumn 2022 entry, with deadlines on October 5, 2021; January 4, 2022 (last deadline for international applicants); and March 15, 2022.
“The Foster School has a long and successful history of using a holistic admissions process to evaluate the contribution of each applicant to our community, and the test-optional process now gives applicants the flexibility to decide what set of information makes their most compelling case for membership in the Foster community,” Associate Dean of Master’s Programs Dan Turner says in a post on the business school’s blog.
“We continue to seek applicants who share our values around inclusivity, community, and the power of business for good, and we are excited about the opportunity to experiment with a test-optional policy to attract a broad range of applicants for whom standardized testing might otherwise present a significant barrier.”