If you hear an MBA candidate complain about the demands of their schooling and job, you may be tempted to play the world’s smallest violin for them. But it is a big effort to land a place at a business school. A myriad of exams and interviews awaits those who seek a spot on the most prestigious programs. Most applicants enter the hyper-competitive process whilst working full-time.
The selective nature of admissions means that for those who gain entry, thousands more are denied. At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business last year, 8,116 people applied for a seat on its full-time MBA course. It admitted just 489, giving it an acceptance rate of 6% — the lowest among the top US MBAs. This measure matters for two reasons.
One is that recruiters at the most sought-after employers tend to target hiring campaigns at the most selective schools, as they know candidates there have been well-vetted. If you want to work for a leading firm, attending an elite school may help you get your foot in the door—though it is not enough on its own.
Bain & Company looks at the highest 15-20 ranked schools, says Keith Bevans, Bain’s global head of consulting recruiting. “To be in a top program, you need to have great work and leadership experience,” he says. “We also know that those top-ranked schools are very selective, so we know that all their students are strong candidates [for jobs].”
Second, MBA applicants often evaluate business schools based on how “elite” they appear. There is a tacit acknowledgement among schools that a low rate can benefit their application volumes.
While demand for the US MBA degree has fallen in recent years, according to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, applications have risen at most of the top-ranked programs. At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, applications to the full-time MBA are up more than 20% from five years ago.
This “flight to quality” has kept average acceptance rates low. The fact that schools are enrolling more women, and there are now more admissions test options, may also have contributed to the buoyant application volumes at the top US schools.
Each year, the Financial Times ranks the world’s best MBA courses based on a variety of metrics, such as salary increases and career progress. Here are the average acceptance rates for the 10 US business schools ranked the highest by the FT: