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The Cost Of The MBA Is Putting Women Off Business School

GMAC study suggests women are applying to specialized master’s programs instead

Wed Mar 8 2017

Women are still under-represented in the world’s top-ranked MBA programs. Although women hold the MBA degree in higher regard than men, the share of women in MBA classrooms remains well below parity with men, at 37%.

The main reason could be the cost of the MBA - according to a new white paper from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) released today on International Women’s Day 2017. The paper’s findings draw upon insights collected from a survey of 5,900 business school applicants representing 15 nationalities.

Globally, 29% of female survey respondents cited financial issues as the key reason why they had not yet accepted their admissions offer to business school. In the US, 38 % of female survey respondents cited financial reasons, compared with 20% of male respondents – with MBA programs at top-ranked US schools costing upwards of $100,000.

“Scholarships and financial aid are the top concerns for female MBA admitted students,” says Aarti Ramaswami, academic director of ESSEC Business School’s full-time MBA.

The French school’s 12-month MBA program costs $47,000 (€45,000), markedly less than two-year programs in the US. The ESSEC MBA class has been approximately 50% female for the past three years.

“Business schools should actively support diversity and inclusion,” Aarti continues. “They should have strong female role models leading the programs, and continue to nurture relationships with female alumni who might face career challenges.”

Most business schools are making efforts to address the gender imbalance in MBA programs. Schools have partnered with organizations like the Forte Foundation which supports women in business, and Prodigy Finance which helps applicants fund their MBAs with international post-graduate loans.

Still, according to GMAC, women represent a greater share of the applicant pool (52%) for specialized business master’s programs in management, marketing, and accounting - with many choosing such programs over traditional MBAs.

Michelle Sisto, director of EDHEC Business School’s 10-month MBA, thinks it largely comes down to one thing: “Candidates in master’s programs tend to be younger, coming straight from their undergraduate studies,” she says. “Whereas an MBA program coincides more often with the age at which women are getting married and having children.”

On EDHEC’s pre-experience master in marketing management, 78% of students are women. On its masters in accounting and finance, 63%. On its master in management, 47%.


EDHEC has actually seen its percentage of female MBA students increase year on year. This year’s EDHEC MBA class is 47% female, around a 10% increase from 2015. Yet EDHEC doesn’t offer a specific women in business scholarship.

“A lot of schools are using that as a hook to attract more women,” says Michelle. “We’ve been successful without.

“Having women in leadership positions within the institution is a good way to do it,” she continues. “When women see other women in those types of positions they become role models.

“Another thing is that there’s a wider breadth of post-MBA career opportunities available now; MBAs are not the banking and consulting programs of the past.”

The majority of EDHEC MBA grads go into technology after graduation. The French school offers mentoring programs and careers workshops specifically designed for women.

Indeed, GMAC’s white paper reports that female and male MBAs differ, not only when it comes to financing their studies. According to GMAC, women are more likely than men to begin considering graduate management education as undergraduates.

They are more likely than men to apply to a specific school because it offers flexible program formats. Especially in Western countries, women are more likely than men to be motivated by career advancement and higher salaries.


Winnie Marie Fuchs is a current MBA student at London Business School (LBS) and co-president of the school’s women in business club. Coming out of her undergrad, she knew she would one day do a post-graduate degree. She considered master’s programs before opting to do an MBA.

“I would definitely see the MBA as a career accelerator,” she says. “I wanted to change career, to take my career forward, and to change industry. The MBA gave me the perfect opportunity to explore different sectors.”

Winnie, who previously worked for Switzerland’s leading stock exchange, is now looking to pursue a career in private equity. She applied for INSEAD, NYU Stern, and Melbourne Business School as well as LBS for her MBA. She’s self-funded, although amongst her female peers MBA funding is a chief concern – the LBS MBA costs around $90,000 (£75,000).

Around 10% of the women in Winnie’s MBA class are mothers, or expectant mothers. Schools like LBS offer flexible study hours, particularly for elective modules. While Winnie doesn’t have children, she thinks she’d still do an MBA if she did.

GMAC reports that women are also less intimidated by the dreaded GMAT business school admission test than their male peers. In the US, women are less likely than men to say that the GMAT exam is too difficult.

“Women are distinct from men in what they are seeking from their business education experience,” says Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “Women have made phenomenal progress in attaining business master’s degrees, yet they have not yet caught up with men in the share of MBAs earned,” he continues.

“We hope that business schools can develop even bolder strategies for increasing the number of women in their classrooms and achieve the gender parity seen in other sectors of graduate education.”