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Business Schools Around The World Increasingly Reporting Growth In Applications

Increasing numbers of business schools around the world are reporting a rise in applications, according to the latest GMAC Application Trends Survey

Thu Oct 26 2023

In a positive sign for business education, a larger number of global business schools reported an increase in applications in 2023 than last year, according to a new Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey

The Application Trends Survey was based on responses from 247 business schools across 32 countries, with a total of 893 programs represented. 

While showing that more schools were seeing growth in applications, the study also revealed the total number of business school applications sent in 2023 fell for the second year in a row.

However, among the schools reporting an uptick, it was the more flexible programs such as hybrid and part-time degrees that were most likely to see an increase. This was also true for business schools with less selective admissions policies. 

Total number of business school applications falling 

Across all degree programs, including MBAs and business masters such as the Master in Management, total applications were down in 2023 by around 5%. This is the second year in a row that applications have fallen, after a 3.4% drop was recorded in 2022. 

Prior to that, during the Covid pandemic, business school applications increased in 2020 by 2.4% and by a marginal 0.4% in 2021. However, application fluctuations have been common in the past—with a fall of around 3% recorded in 2019.

Year-on-Year Change in Total Number of Business School Applications

More students applying to flexible programs

While absolute numbers of applications were down, the number of programs around the world that reported a growth in applications rose from 42% to 45% in 2023. 

This marked a return to pre-pandemic levels, however it was significantly lower than the 65% of schools that reported application growth during the height of the Covid pandemic, when uncertainty saw many people turn to further education to future-proof their careers. 

The report found that flexibility appears to be an increasingly important factor in applications for many candidates who are considering business school. 

Degrees delivered via online, hybrid, weekend, or evening formats were significantly more likely to see a growth in applications compared to more traditional programs delivered via full-time, physical study. 

In total, 60% of evening programs and 56% of those taught at weekends reported application growth. By contrast, 57% of full-time, in-person degrees saw applications fall in 2023. 

Increase in Applications by Delivery Type

Flexibility not a priority for some students 

There were some exceptions to the trend, where flexibility proved to be a less important factor for certain students.  

Online business masters degrees, for example, were more likely to see applications decline than those taught in-person. This is indicative of the perceived importance of the in-person experience that students have at the beginning of their careers. 

Likewise, applications to the more selective, top-ranked programs were also less likely to be influenced by delivery methods. Flexible study formats among degrees ranked in the top 100 globally by the Financial Times or US News were more likely to result in declining applications. 

As a result, GMAC concluded that “prospective students seeking out top-ranked programs may not necessarily be looking for the same flexibility as the average GME candidates”.

Application rates vary between programs 

While the total number of applications were down, there was some variation in the number of business school applications that were sent for different degree types. 

Global MBA applications fell for the second year in a row. Declining by 4.9% in 2023, this was a slower drop than in 2022 when applications were falling by more than 6%. It was also a smaller fall than schools saw in 2019. 

The number of MBA programs that reported a growth in applications increased to 47% in 2023—an increase of 10% on the previous year. MBA programs represented in the survey were roughly equally likely to report a growth in applications as they were a drop. 

While MBA applications have historically been more susceptible to fluctuations, for the first time in six years the total number of applications to business masters degrees fell in 2023. 

Applications across all masters degree types were down by 3%, however this varied between the different degrees. 

More than half (51%) of Master of Finance programs reported an increase in applications, and Masters of Accounting were more likely to report growth than decline. However the reverse was true for Masters in Business Analytics, and 57% of Masters in Management saw a decline in applications. 

Regional variation in application rates 

There was also substantial variation in rate of applications between different regions.

More than half of programs in the US saw a growth in the number of applications they received, particularly from domestic candidates. US b-school applicants were also distinct from global trends as they prioritized both flexible and in-person programs equally. 

The majority of programs in Canada reported a drop in applications, however there were more applications sent to Canadian b-schools in 2023, suggesting that candidates favored a select few schools when sending applications. 

There was a significant drop in applications to business schools in Europe in 2023, continuing a trend that has been ongoing over the past three years. This was particularly true for international students, whose applications fell by 13%. Programs in the Asia Pacific region also experienced a drop in applications.