Like many Gen Zers—Generation Z, those born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s—Aubrey Bryan wants to make a positive impact on society just as much as she wants to make big bucks.
This motivation influenced the American’s choice of business school. Although well-served by top-ranked business schools at home, she relocated to Germany for her Master’s in Management degree last year.
“I picked ESMT Berlin because it incorporates much emphasis on sustainability, social impact and human-focused business, which really motivates me,” says the 25-year-old.
She also loved the school’s metropolitanism, with 79% of the class being non-German. “ESMT provides language classes and I speak German anyway, so I was not worried about fitting into the country,” says Aubrey, whose great grandfather was German.
Aubrey’s story chimes with new findings from our Top Countries For Business School Candidates In 2019 report, published in collaboration with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Our report shows that Generation Z are almost 10% less likely to study in the United States than millennials (24-to-30 year-olds).
So, why are Generation Z snubbing business schools in the United States?
Gen Z want to study internationally
Aubrey’s motivations for pursuing a business education are typical of her generation, says Rick Doyle, ESMT Berlin’s head of marketing for degree programs.
“The world is more globalized than it was for previous generations, so I think Gen Zers have more of an inclination to study abroad and start careers in a foreign country,” he says, noting Germany’s 18-month job-seeking visa for overseas graduates.
Generation Z often have parents from multiple cultures and speak numerous languages. “Gen Zers have a much more global view of the world than previous generations did,” says Rick. “It’s natural for them to seek out learning environments that reflect themselves.”
Political tumult in the US, and the implication on immigration policy, could also be causing Gen Z to expand their choices of study destination.
Our report found that Gen Z prefer to study in more diverse countries and are more likely to study in Europe than millennials are. Gen Z are marginally less likely to go to Singapore, India, Spain and the Netherlands, though they are still among the world’s top 10 most popular study destinations.
Gen Z have more options open to them
For some Gen Zers, it has just been a matter of understanding their growing options for business education, says Deborah McCandless, associate director of admissions at IESE Business School in Spain.
“As schools outside the US have been growing both in number of top global institutions and in student numbers, so have their alumni impact and name recognition,” she says.
Because Gen Zers are too young for most MBA programs, they may be drawn to the prestige of Europe’s pre-experience MiM courses, which were established on the European continent and dominate rankings tables.
In contrast, the US is still warming to the MiM degree and there are fewer options in the country, which pioneered and still very much reveres the MBA degree for experienced candidates.
US schools are also held back by their fees which are often relatively higher than those in Europe.
“Gen Z is defined by their pragmatism, making them more likely to focus on achieving financial security as quickly as possible,” says US-based admissions consultant Stacy Blackman.
“While the data point of 10% is not dramatic, it may be supported by preference among some for shorter MBA programs due to the need to get back to work.”
US business schools have cause for concern
Brandon Kirby, an American director of MBA admissions at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, believes US schools should be concerned by this generational shift.
"If schools in other markets are able to attract Gen Z now while the US is less popular, it means they can establish a foothold in the market that will be difficult for the US to regain,” he says.
He adds: “Gen Z likes adventure, the unknown, and to experience new things. Schools that embrace these ideas in their marketing and recruitment efforts will continue to attract to this demographic.”
While our report shows signs of a shift away from the US in general, not all US schools are finding it hard to attract Gen Zers to their courses.
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has seen increases in applications—by 15% for the US-based Master of Management Studies (MMS) program, 30% for the joint MMS with China, and 100% for the Master of Quantitative Management: Business Analytics degree, according to Dan McCleary, assistant dean for admissions.
“Domestic and international applications have increased for all three courses,” says Dan, who reckons this may be because of high demand for the business analytics graduates and also because the other two courses are STEM-designated. This lengthens the amount of time overseas graduates can be employed in the US on a work experience program.
However, Dan admits that the US geopolitical situation has led to a drop in international applications to programs overall in the US. And that, he says, is “hugely concerning.”