GMAC Releases 2015 Prospective MBA Students Report

Conventional wisdom holds that students considering business school give great weight, if not the greatest weight, to published school rankings as a guide to their decision.  However, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2015 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report released earlier this week, the truth is that students place other factors above rankings in selecting a school.

The survey uncovers that students from various parts of the world display distinct differences in ascribing what factors matter most to them and the order of importance in which they consider those factors when making decisions about b-school.

what matters to MBA applicantsWhen students listed their top five consideration criteria for actually selecting a program and a study destination, rankings didn’t rank.

The study destination distinction is important as more than half of prospective students (52 percent) seek to study outside their country of citizenship, up from 40 percent in 2010 (and noticeable among Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern citizens). The top 10 preferred study destinations worldwide are the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore, Netherlands, and Australia.

The survey does show that published rankings have influence in candidates’ school consideration but places rankings overall as the third most consulted information resource for prospective students, finishing behind school websites and friends and family.

“Given the degree to which school rankings dominate the discussion, it is interesting that as their decision making progresses, students themselves say that rankings fall in importance,” says Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC’s director of Management Education Research. “While the survey is geared toward helping schools market to prospective students, applicants can use report insights to inform and strengthen their selection process.”

In addition to these findings, the 2015 report also explores regional and generational differences regarding prospective students’ career goals, program preferences, decision-making time lines, and top study destinations, as well as education financing choices, motivations, online/offline course delivery, the role of social media and preferences about b-school culture.

An especially interesting finding focuses on aspiring entrepreneurs, with 28 percent of survey respondents indicating that they plan to start their own businesses compared with 19 percent just five years ago. Respondents in Africa (45 percent), Latin America (44 percent) and Central and South Asia including India (43 percent) led this segment.

Highlights from the survey findings include:

  • Even as business school portfolios of master’s programs continue to diversify, the MBA remains the degree most often considered by prospective students. MBA programs are exclusively considered by half (52 percent) of prospective students, globally. Gauging the interest of prospective students across more than 25 MBA and specialized business master’s program options, 26 percent of today’s candidates are considering both degree types.
  • Sixty-five percent of prospective students pursue graduate management education to increase the job opportunities that are available to them.
  • Segmenting prospective students by career goals reveals three groups: career enhancers (34 percent of respondents), career switchers (38 percent), and aspiring entrepreneurs (28 percent).
  • The Millennial generation (those born from 1980 to 1998) dominates the distribution of today’s prospective business school students and represented 88 percent of all survey respondents. Schools have three-months, on average, to engage Millennials from when they take the GMAT exam and when they submit their first application to business school.

Nearly 12,000 registrants to GMAC’s mba.com website participated in the survey, conducted throughout 2014. With analysis of survey responses available for all world regions, including 30 specific countries, this is the largest data source of its kind.

You can download the full report here.

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