Total applications to graduate business schools dropped nearly 5% in 2023 across the globe, according to a new survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council. That’s on top of a 3.4% drop the year before.
But not all segments have been so severely impacted. More online, part-time, and hybrid programs reported growth than selective, full time programs suggesting an increasing number of candidates are more willing to sacrifice prestige for flexibility. Meanwhile, more U.S. based programs reported application growth this year, after several years of domestic application decline following the pandemic, according to GMAC’s annual Application Trends Survey released this week.
The 2023 survey collected data from 893 programs at 247 business schools from around the world regarding the 2023-2024 academic year. Data was collected between June and August this year, offering a snapshot of the incoming fall classes.
MBA APPS DOWN OVERALL FOR SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR
The total number of MBA applications fell 4.9% around the world in 2023 following a 6.5% drop in 2022. That’s after an overall rise of 3.8% in 2021. See table below.
Still, more than half of programs reported application growth, a 10–point improvement over last year’s survey. Further, moderately-ranked MBA programs were more likely to see their applications increase compared to their highly-selective counterparts.
In the U.S. about 49% of traditional two-year MBA programs reported more applications than they did on last year’s survey.
APPS TO U.S. PROGRAMS BOUNCE BACK
The survey’s primary finding is that total applications to graduate business programs continue to fall in absolute numbers around the world. That comes after a pandemic-era increase in 2020 (a rise of 2.4%) and a hold-steady year in 2021.
In the U.S., a strong economy fueled a significant dip in domestic applications to top MBA programs in those years, which P&Q covered extensively. In 2022, applications fell 9.3% at Michigan Ross, 10% at NYU Stern, and 14% at The Wharton School, just to name a few. Top schools were largely able to offset those losses by a rise in international applications.
This year, while the absolute total number of applications to U.S. MBA and business master’s programs dipped slightly, half of U.S. programs reported application growth compared to GMAC’s 2022’s survey. The decline was most pronounced in the dip in international applications compared to domestic apps. In fact, U.S. programs saw a decade-long high in domestic applications.
In other U.S. application trends:
- 49% of full-time, two-year MBA programs and 65% of one-year programs reported application growth in 2023.
- 53% of part-time MBA programs and 58% of online MBA programs reported growth over last year’s survey. In 2022, 75% of part-time and 76% of online MBA programs reported application declines. This suggests an application rebound in 2023 after two down years following the 2020 pandemic surge.
- Specialized master’s degrees also mostly saw application increases, though it wasn’t universal. 53% of both Master of Finance and Master of Business Analytics programs reported a rise in applications, while just 43% of Master of Accounting programs saw more applications than a year ago.
MORE STUDENTS SEEKING FLEXIBILITY
Globally 60% percent of MBA programs with flexible formats – online, hybrid, or part-time – reported a rise in applications. This compares to just 41% of full-time, in-person MBA programs.
The pursuit of flexibility appears to be increasingly attractive to students. Schools with lower ranks tended to see a greater application increase to its programs with flexible delivery. The exception is at prestigious, top-ranked schools where applicants still value the traditional, in-person programs.
“In fact, most competitive programs that added flexible delivery options reported more declines than growth. However, the growing interest in less selective programs with flexible modalities does not signal an end to the standing of the most selective programs offering full-time, in-person degrees,” reads the survey reports executive summary. “In other words, there is still a large (albeit somewhat smaller) pool of applicants aiming for GME degrees at top-ranked business schools.”
Of U.S. based evening and weekend part-time programs, 54% reported increased applications. Some 52% of online and hybrid programs reported increases while 53% of full-time, in person programs reported increases. See table below.
HOW B-SCHOOLS ARE TACKLING AI
For the first time, GMAC this year surveyed school’s on their approach to AI and other cutting-edge topics. While the questions were open ended, anecdotally GMAC found that many schools are actively considering how AI might be used in the administrative process, in curricula and pedagogy.
Some schools are already reviewing curricula to add AI and new technologies while others are expanding capacity to popular classes that already offer the content. Still other schools report that faculty are using various techniques to deal with AI in regards to academic integrity while others report that they are not asking students to forgo AI tools in their coursework because it is the future in learning.
However, most business programs are still in the inaction or consideration phase of Artificial Intelligence.
“Respondents also mentioned the creation of new certificates, concentrations, executive education, and micro-credentials. Several schools mention that the target audience of all their lifelong-learning opportunities are alumni already in their network, while others were leveraging their degree and non-degree offerings to target new types of candidates, such as those earlier in their careers or working professionals with specific industry requirements,” reads the survey report.
“As graduate management education evolves with the onset of new technologies and a new, post-pandemic attitude toward flexibility, it is clear graduate business schools are continuing to adapt their offerings to best meet the needs of the next generation of business leaders.”
OTHER KEY FINDINGS
Total applications to business master’s degrees dropped for the first time in six years, dropping 3.4% from the year before. Master of Finance fared the best, however, with 51% of programs reporting growth. Compare that to 42% of Master in Management programs, 47% of Master of Accounting, and 45% of Master of Business Analytics programs reporting more applications this year.
The dip in applications hasn’t resulted in fewer students. In 2023, most programs reported an increase of students accepted into their classes. The median number of students enrolled in full-time MBA and master’s programs increased slightly in 2023, while Executive MBA saw a slight decrease in enrolled students. Enrollment in professional MBA enrollment has fallen from a high in 2020. See chart below.
Also in 2023, fewer programs saw increased applications from international students compared to last year – and compared to the years directly following the pandemic. Just 41% of global programs saw more international applications this year. For full-time MBA programs, just 40% reported an increase in international applicants.
In terms of class makeup, the number of women applicants has stagnated worldwide, despite increased emphasis on gender parity in the last several years.
Worldwide, a median of just 40% of applicants to business management programs were women in 2023, up just one point from 2014. That’s down from a high of 43% in 2015 and 2016. A bright spot for women is in master of accounting and management applications, where nearly half of applicants are women.
But applications from underrepresented U.S. populations hit a post-pandemic peak at about 15% of applications.
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