Although interest in specialized business master’s degrees continues to rise, findings from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) newly released 2017 Prospective Students Survey Report show that the MBA remains the predominant program format considered by candidates with both prior business master’s degrees (61 percent) and non-business master’s degrees (86 percent). In fact, three in 4 prospective graduate business school candidates who hold a prior master’s degree are considering enrolling in MBA programs.
“These findings demonstrate that a business master’s degree is not necessarily the end of graduates’ business education,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “For many, their business master’s degree is a stepping stone to continued professional development that may include an MBA down the road, in either a full-time or part-time format.”
The findings of the mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report show that globally 22 percent of prospective business school candidates have a prior master’s degree, with considerable regional variation. While 2 in 5 European candidates have a prior master’s-level credential, the same is true of just 14 percent of U.S. candidates.
Growing Demand for Business Master’s Programs
Fueled by growing candidate demand, non-MBA business master’s programs continue to proliferate. Globally, the percentage of candidates considering only business master’s degrees — such as Master of Finance, Master of Accounting, and Master in Management — has increased from 15 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2016.
This rise in interest has been particularly strong among candidates from East and Southeast Asia and Western Europe, where now more than 2 in 5 candidates report considering only these program types.
Non-MBA programs and MBA programs attract distinct candidate pools seeking different outcomes. Candidates considering non-MBA business master’s programs skew younger and the majority have little to no prior work experience.
Compared with MBA candidates, individuals preferring business master’s programs are more interested in developing their technical skills. MBA candidates are typically older, have more years of work experience, and are more interested in developing their managerial and leadership skills.
International Study Demand Remains Strong
Nearly 3 in 5 prospective business school students (59 percent) intend to apply to programs outside their country of residence, up from 44 percent in 2009. Most candidates seek study opportunities outside their country of citizenship to receive a higher-quality education (63 percent of respondents), to increase their chance of securing international employment (58 percent), and to expand their international connections (51 percent).
One-third (34 percent) of candidates who prefer to study outside their country of citizenship intend to seek employment in the country where they prefer to attend school.
U.S. Remains Most Preferred Study Destination Though Candidate Preferences Are Shifting
Consistent with past research, more than 9 in 10 U.S. candidates prefer to study domestically (96 percent). Globally, among full-time MBA candidates looking to study outside their country of citizenship, 58 percent prefer to study in the U.S., down from 61 percent in 2009. Since 2009, there has been an increase in MBA candidates preferring to study in Canada (4 percent in 2009 vs. 7 percent in 2016).
There has been a similar shift in preferred study destinations among non-U.S. candidates interested in business master’s programs. In 2016, 47 percent of non-U.S. prospective students interested in business master’s programs expressed a preference for study in the U.S., down from 57 percent in 2009.
Over time, a greater share of these candidates have shown interest in applying to programs in Western Europe (34 percent in 2016 vs. 30 percent in 2009), Canada (7 percent in 2016 vs. 4 percent (2009), and East and Southeast Asia (7 percent in 2016 vs. 4 percent in 2009).
Immigration Policy Changes Impact International Study Choices
Recent shifts in immigration policies may impact candidates’ study destination preferences in 2017. Anticipated changes in U.S. immigration policies and last year’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom may make it more difficult for non-citizens to obtain student visas to study in those countries or to obtain work visas after graduation to seek employment, one of the main reasons for studying in those countries.
Since November 2016, a growing share of international candidates say they are now less likely to pursue a graduate business degree in the U.S. due to the U.S. presidential election results. The percentage of non-U.S. citizen mba.com registrants who say they are now less likely to study in the U.S. has grown from 35 percent in November 2016 to 43 percent in April 2017.
Early indications are that the British Brexit vote to leave the European Union may negatively impact international candidate demand to apply to U.K. business schools. In December 2016, among nearly 1,300 non-U.K. GMAT test takers surveyed about the Brexit vote, 45 percent indicated that the Brexit vote has made them less likely to study in the U.K.
A country-level analysis reveals that Indian candidates are the most negatively influenced by the Brexit vote, with 58 percent reporting that it has made them less likely to study in the U.K.
GMAC launched a second survey of non-U.K. GMAT test takers on March 29, the day the U.K. triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which allows the U.K. to unilaterally quit the European Union. This survey closed on April 7 and showed the same percentage of candidates would be less likely to study in the U.K.
Education Costs Continue to Weigh Heavily on Candidates’ Minds
The predominant reservation candidates have about pursuing a graduate business education revolves around costs. Approximately half of surveyed candidates indicate that not having enough money available to pay for their education (52 percent of respondents) and potentially having to take on large debts (47 percent) may prevent them from pursuing a graduate business degree.
The two most important financial aspects that candidates evaluate when deciding where to apply are total tuition costs and scholarship availability. Compared with 2009, candidates, on average, expect to cover a greater share of the cost of their education with grants, fellowships, and scholarships and a smaller share with parental support, loans, and employer assistance.
Analysis in the 2017 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report is based on survey responses provided by 11,617 individuals who registered on mba.com between February and December 2016.