US business schools have had a torrid couple of years, with applications plunging across the board. So it makes sense that acceptance rates—the proportion of applicants who are admitted to MBAs—have crept up marginally at the elite schools this past year.
But competition for a place on a top course is as intense as ever and may have even increased recently, according to admissions consultants.
The acceptance rate has increased slightly at the top-10 Financial Times ranked schools (mostly US) that provide data, according to a BusinessBecause analysis, from a 10% average in 2017 to a 10.95% in 2018. The rate increased at nine in 10 of the schools year-over-year.
With applications also down at all 10 of these schools year-on-year—by 6.6% at Wharton and 4.4% at Harvard Business School—it is probable that admissions teams are admitting more applicants to maintain a talented and diverse class.
“With applications down, and without shrinking class sizes, business schools will have to admit more applicants to meet their class size goals,” explains Chioma Isiadinso, chief executive of admissions firm Expartus.
“But applicants should never assume an admissions offer is theirs for the taking. Submitting the best application should still be the goal.”
Acceptance rates reveal your chances of getting accepted into a program. Business schools publish their rates because they know a low rate conveys prestige and may entice more applications.
David White, founding partner of Menlo Coaching, says competition for MBA places remains tough. Falls in application volume in the US were mostly among overseas students—an already over-subscribed applicant pool, he says—because of H-1B visa policies that make it hard to secure US work authorization.
“Internationals are still a majority of the applicant pool at top schools (even after the drop), but only a minority of the admitted class, so competition remains tough,” he says. “There are still three-to-five as many very strong international applicants as there are seats for them.”
Anecdotally, admissions consultant Stacy Blackman says the quality of MBA applications to the elite programs is much higher than previously, in terms of diversity of industry, function, and geography. The marginal increase in acceptance rates amid a more impressive applicant pool may in fact signal that it’s getting harder to secure a business school place, she says.
“Superstars are many in the elite MBA applicant pool in this current climate where the US economy is strong and employers are giving young professionals an incredible amount of leadership opportunity,” says Stacy.
She says the quality of the applicant pool isn’t measured through a percentile, yet acceptance rates are a key indicator of MBA program demand and value, used by media outlets to help to define elite and highly-coveted courses.
However, David says acceptance rates are not always a sign of the quality of the student body. “Losing applicants of lower quality in the pool would have exactly zero impact on the quality of the student body.”
Chioma does not see falling applications and rising acceptance rates as a concern for schools. “Business schools have experienced this trend before and recognize the cyclical nature of the admissions business. Ultimately, good MBA programs will be around for a long time, regardless of the direction the pendulum swings in.”
BusinessBecause analyzed the 10 schools that publish admissions data that are ranked highest in the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2019. The acceptance rate used is the number of applicants enrolled (not admitted) in a course