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Here’s Why Applications To European Business Schools Are Booming

New research shows European business schools are gaining in popularity, while MBA applications to the US continue to drop

By  Cara Skikne

Thu Apr 25 2019

Graduate management education has long been a vehicle for international mobility and opportunity.

While the US remains the most popular MBA destination for applicants, the last decade has seen an accelerating decline in international applications to US business schools. Applications to European business schools meanwhile, have been booming.

According to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Prospective Students Survey 2019, international candidate preference for Western Europe grew from 31% in 2016 to 40% in 2018.

Here are some of the reasons European business schools have become more popular:

Declining applications to the US

The US’ loss is Europe’s gain. The drop in MBA applications to US business schools is not new. Among candidates who plan to apply internationally, preference for the United States as their study destination has been dropping for a decade.

The last two years, however, show a steep decline. After declining from 54% to 48% between 2009 and 2016, preference for the United States declined to 40% in 2018.

The increasing interest in European schools may come off the back of concerns about the political climate in the US, and perceived difficulties in obtaining post-study work visas in the US.

Read: Why Are Fewer People Applying To MBA Programs In The US?


©GBlakeley via iStock

Shorter, more affordable programs

The shift can also be explained, in part, by the popularity of one-year MBA programs typically offered in Europe. According to GMAC, in 2018, 47% of candidates were considering full-time one-year MBA programs compared to 45% of candidates considering full-time two year programs.

This is particularly true among citizens of Canada and countries in Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, and East and Southeast Asia. The high cost, together with the opportunity cost of MBA programs, is one factor that makes one-year programs more attractive.

Cost is the biggest source of reluctance when candidates are deciding whether or not to pursue graduate management education. And while some tuition fees per year may be higher in Europe, overall tuition fees can be lower for shorter programs. Other areas of reservation include economic uncertainty and uncertainty around job prospects, and the need to delay attractive job opportunities.

GMAC’s report also showed the rise of alternatives to the traditional two-year, full-time MBA popular in the US. Nearly half of candidates now consider both MBA and business master’s programs, and one-in-five only consider business master’s programs. Masters in Finance are the most considered business master’s programs (24% of candidates), followed by Masters in Data Analytics (19%).

Around 12% of candidates consider an online MBA. Although this percentage has remained relatively stable over a 10-year period, more schools are investing in online learning, whether it’s blended learning or 100%-online, to reach new students. Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA became the first fully-online MBA to be accredited by AMBA in 2016.

Read: How Is Brexit Affecting UK Business Schools?


©AdrianHancu via iStock

The popularity of specific schools

While candidates preferring professional MBA programs are more likely to first consider the regional location, applicants preferring full-time MBA and executive MBA programs are more likely to first consider the specific schools they want to attend.

There are a number of highly-ranked European business schools like INSEAD, London Business School, and HEC Paris to choose from.

Elsewhere, schools like Cranfield School of Management in the UK offer a host of MBA programs to suit multiple candidates’ needs, including a full-time MBA, Executive MBA, and specialized MBAs for professionals in the defense and energy industries.

Previous GMAC research shows fears around the impact of Brexit on MBA applications have not come to fruition. In fact, the percentage of applicants who apply to the UK as their first choice has increased.

Diverse cohorts

European business schools have a reputation for diverse student cohorts. Classes in many European business schools are known for their much higher proportion of international students. In INSEAD’s 2018 MBA cohort for example, 94 nationalities are represented.

This becomes an attractive proposition when you consider the global nature of business and the opportunities to form international networks. European business schools may also offer the opportunity to learn a new language.

With a number of prestigious and highly ranked European business schools offering a range of program types, we can expect European schools to continue to gain ground.