The white paper has been published following interviews with 18- to 24-year-old prospective business school candidates from six countries: Germany, India, China, Peru, Nigeria, and the US. It considers responses from 16-20 participants per country.
The paper follows hot on the heels of GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey 2023, which revealed that Gen Z’s primary reason for pursuing graduate management education (GME) was personal fulfillment. Among Gen Z prospective students, 79% said they wanted to enhance their life and develop their potential by pursuing a business degree, while 68% cited a salary increase as a key motivator for further study.
So what does the ideal business school experience look like for Gen Z?
Experiential learning is important for Gen Z at business school
Overarchingly, Gen Z members around the world know that business school is worth their time and money, the latest report reveals. That isn't just because it leads to a high-paying careers but because, Gen Z believes, that graduate management education will help them to gain the skills and experiences that will give them options in the future.
Rather than mapping a clear path to one target company or industry, those in Gen Z say they want their business school experience to help them develop transferable leadership and communication skills.
This explains why practical application during a graduate degree is shown to be important to Gen Z. In the research, respondents suggested that experiential learning, such as running mock businesses or solving real-world business problems, would hopefully contribute to making them more competitive in the labor market.
Regarding the curriculum, Gen Z respondents also expressed a desire for coursework that reflected growing industry sectors and the current economy. Plus, while some candidates wanted to gain a broad, generalist business knowledge, others were hoping to specialize in a key area in fitting with their goals.
Gen Z wants flexibility in program delivery
As the first fully digital generation, and one that experienced their education moving completely online during the pandemic, it’s clear to this generation that work can be completed from anywhere when needed—and so it should be, survey respondents said.
That doesn’t mean Gen Z candidates are inclined to choose online degrees—GMAC reports that a huge 87% of Gen Z prospective students want to study in-person—but rather they want the freedom to participate remotely or catch-up with work in their own time as and when required.
Leveraging digital tools during an in-person degree could also help to diversify the learning experience. One respondent—a 23-year-old male from India—suggested their ideal program would be “face-to-face with some online lectures from industrial experts throughout the world".
The business school experience should foster diversity, says Gen Z
To date, Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever. In the US, nearly half (48%) identify as racial or ethnic minorities, according to the Pew Research Center.
Gen Z interviewees told GMAC they want to see the diversity of their generational cohort reflected in the business school classroom.
Exposure to other cultures and perspectives, respondents said, would help prepare them for the workplace and benefit their personal growth. This was particularly valuable for the multiple candidates—who were mostly outside of the US—who said they were interested in careers abroad or with multinational companies.
As well as being able to interact and network with a diverse cohort, Gen Z participants in the survey also wanted to broaden their cultural perspective through travel opportunities and a focus on global business within the curriculum.
It’s clear then that for Gen Z the business school experience is about more than the career that comes at the end of it. It is an opportunity for fulfilling, diverse experiences and interactions.
In fact, when GMAC survey respondents were asked about return on investment, it was clear that business school was not seen as a solely financial decision but also an emotional one. While a salary increase and securing a top job were important, respondents also showed a strong desire for work-life balance and a sense of value and fulfillment.
Understanding Gen Z candidates—and adapting their programs in line with Gen Z’s desires—is a top priority for business schools around the world as they are the incoming cohorts. So, how will business schools respond and will Gen Z’s hopes match up to the reality?
Next read: How Does Gen Z Define Career Success?