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United States Business Schools Hit As International MBAs Look Elsewhere In 2017—GMAC

Internationals now twice as likely to apply to schools outside the US, according to GMAC’s 2017 Application Trends Survey Report

By  Jonathan Pfeffer

Wed Sep 20 2017

This week, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) released its annual application trends survey report for the 2017-2018 academic year. GMAC’s survey is based on data culled from 573 MBA programs, 369 master’s programs in business, and 23 doctoral programs based in 45 countries around the world.

So, what are this year’s major developments?

US Programs See Declining Application Volumes

First off, it’s impossible to ignore how much the larger geopolitical climate has affected the way admissions tides have turned in 2017. While GMAC notes that the decline in American demand may have to do with the domestic labor market’s current “pre-recessionary” unemployment levels, it’s clear that the 2016 election outcome and Trump’s subsequent presidency continues to generate panic, particularly when it comes to international perceptions of the US.

When surveyed by GMAC about the political impact on application volumes, a representative for a full-time. two-year US MBA program commented:

“Given the immigration policies advocated by the present administration as well as the general tenor of the broader conversation in the US regarding immigrants and foreigners, we found our international prospective students cited greater anxiety about living and studying in the United States than in prior years.”

With the exception of Master in Data Analytics programs in the US, international applicants are increasingly applying to schools outside the US—twice as likely, in fact. A representative for one Canadian two-year full-time MBA program commented rather bluntly, “Many international students [selected] Canada as their first choice.”

Brexit Doesn’t Deter International Applicants

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, the political impact of Brexit on the applicant pool/expected yield at UK MBA programs has been reportedly minimal. According to a representative from a full-time two-year UK MBA, “Application numbers from European students have remained stable in comparison with previous years, and our tuition fees are now more affordable to international candidates due to the drop in value of the British Pound Sterling.”

Non-US Business Programs Demonstrate Growth in International Applicants

67% of European programs, 65% of UK programs, 77% of East and Southeast Asian full-time MBAs, and 77% of Canadian business schools reported exponential growth in international applicants, compared to 32% of US programs. According to the report, India and China represent the largest volumes of international applicants to programs in these locations.

Size, popularity matter

While GMAC reports that program size does not seem to impact growth rates for international applicants—less than 50% of US programs “reported increasing international volumes”—larger programs are more likely to report overall application growth compared to smaller programs. Programs with 201 or more students received 55% of all business school applications.

According to the report, 73% of the largest, most popular full-time two-year MBA programs reported growth, each receiving between 5-10 applications per seat, compared with less than four for programs with 50 or fewer students. 

Women make gains

We previously reported on how business schools are working to create more inclusive cultures, particularly for women. It seems the optics are paying off as participating schools in GMAC’s survey reported an overall increase in the “representation of women in the application pipeline.” 42% of 2017 applications to full-time MBA programs were from women, compared to 37% in 2013. GMAC also reports that 54% of 2017 applications to business master’s programs came from women.

P/T lockstep programs in high demand

While applications to part-time self-paced MBAs have stagnated or declined since 2008, part-time lockstep programs report year-on-year growth, largely due to the program structure, which provides  “greater opportunities for students to network and proceed through the program with a consistent class.”