5 Findings from GMAC's Survey of Prospective MBA Applicants

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Jul 4, 2022

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has taken the pulse of prospective MBA applicants to see what attitudes have changed, if any, compared to pre-pandemic times. Matt Hazenbush, the Director of Research Analysis and Communications at GMAC, shared five takeaways gleaned from the 2022 Prospective Students Survey. Here are GMAC’s noteworthy findings regarding future MBA aspirants.

Prospective MBA applicants continue to view the MBA as highly as they did before the pandemic.

Despite the lingering effects of the pandemic on so many aspects of our lives, the MBA remains a valuable degree. Now more than ever, professionals need to have a strong foundation in fundamental business principles. An MBA equips grads with advanced knowledge to navigate the business concerns of tomorrow.

“Globally, more than 4 in 5 candidates agree that a graduate business degree helps you stand out at work— consistent with pre-pandemic levels,” Hazenbush notes.

The full-time MBA format is still the most preferred program type.

The GMAC survey found that “More than 40 percent of prospective students in the business school pipeline want to earn an MBA in a full-time format as a part of either a two- (22% of candidates in 2021) or one-year (21%) program.”

The classic MBA experience is still the gold standard for many applicants, SBC has found. The whole immersion experience is invaluable for the networking opportunities and alumni connections it provides. It also offers a unique time for MBA students to reflect on and reconsider their career paths.

Prospective students prefer the in-person business school experience over the online-only format. However, interest in hybrid formats is growing.

The vast majority (73%) of prospective applicants think online MBA programs don’t offer the same value as on-campus programs, the GMAC survey reports. “Nearly 4 in 5 disagree that the networking opportunities are equivalent, and 2 in 3 disagree that the career opportunities are the same,” Hazenbush notes.

“A lot of people started to really value in-person connections, and also became skeptical about the sort of ROI of purely virtual environments,” veteran US News journalist Ilana Kowarski recently told the SBC team. “I do think that there is going to be some resurgence of interest in traditional MBAs.”

Plus, she added, “I think a lot of people are craving the social environment that a traditional MBA could provide.”

International students continue to favor the United States and Western Europe as their top study destinations. However, in some Asian markets, a growing number of candidates are opting to study domestically.

Depending on where you want to work after graduating, an MBA from a top US or European business school will open a lot of doors. Some applicants favor Europe for its shorter programs, (usually) lower tuition costs, and a truly international experience.

Many candidates consider US B-schools the gold standard for graduate management education. Whether you value the academic experience, immersive opportunities, available resources, or brand power, top U.S. schools have it all.

“The good news for business schools in Western Europe and the United States is that most candidates who prefer to study internationally still want to study in these locations,” says Hazenbush.

However, candidates from Central and South Asian countries have lost some interest in studying in those locales. The percentage dropped from 89% to 73% between 2019-2021. Likewise, interest in international study dipped from 92% to 87% among East and South Asian candidates between 2020-21.

“The implications of this may be that competition for a smaller pool of internationally mobile talent may heat up over the next several years,” Hazenbush predicts.

More and more prospective MBA applicants are interested in tech careers, and the schools hope to attract these candidates.

There are a growing number of technology-focused and STEM career paths, as well as data science-focused skills required of today’s leaders. Meanwhile, the schools have responded with curriculum additions in machine learning, data analytics, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and automation.

“In terms of industries of interest, where we saw a statistically significant shift in the last year is in interest in the tech sector,” Hazenbush notes. “Tech was the most commonly sought-after industry by non-business undergrad majors (49%) in 2021.”

Also worth noting: the latest survey showed an uptick in women interested in tech (29% to 34%) as well as URM candidate interest (36% to 39%)

“It will certainly be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a longer-term shift toward tech, or a momentary uptick followed by regression,” Hazenbush writes. “If it sustains, it could be a signal to schools interested in boosting diversity to more closely position their offerings as a gateway to desirable tech jobs.”

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.