Prospective MBA Applicants: What’s On Their Minds?

prospective MBA applicants

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has taken the pulse of prospective MBA applicants to see what attitudes, if any, have changed since last year. It turns out that people considering business school are more interested in enriching their lives than increasing their incomes. Here are GMAC’s noteworthy takeaways gleaned from the 2023 Prospective Students Survey.

“We asked additional questions in our survey this year because meaningful shifts in prospective student demographics are underway,” explained Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC. “Understanding candidates from Gen Z—now the largest generation applying to business schools—is critical as programs plan for expanding the pipeline down the road.”

“We want to take a closer look at the trends among women, first-generation, and U.S. underrepresented candidates to equip schools with the knowledge that ensures every talented person can benefit from the best business education for them.” — Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC

This year, 79% of respondents say they’re motivated to pursue an MBA to better their lives and develop their potential. The next-best motivator—increasing income—clocked in 15 percentage points lower.

Furthermore, women, millennials, underrepresented U.S. candidates, and first-generation prospective students are all statistically more likely to indicate post-GME career preference for the government or nonprofit sector, which tends to be more stable and socially engaged though less lucrative than the private sector.

Gen Z, on the other hand, is most interested in entering the finance and accounting industry. This cohort is also ten percentage points more likely to cite increasing their incomes and expanding their networks as top motivators for pursuing the degree than their older counterparts.

Prospective MBA Applicants Want Full-Time, In-Person Learning

The full-time MBA of any duration continues to surpass interest in more flexible or executive MBAs and business master’s programs. Gen Z is most interested in the two-year MBA, and millennials are most interested in the one-year MBA. These digital natives have a strong preference for in-person study, with 80% of Gen Z reporting a preference for this modality compared to 69% of millennials.

This could be an indication of where each generation is in their careers. Older candidates may have more established networks or more responsibilities at work or at home. Meanwhile, younger candidates are more interested in expanding their networks. They also may have more ease entering and exiting a graduate management program.

It’s true overall global preference remains for in-person learning. But online—and especially hybrid—programs have made some inroads. Groups most likely to benefit from the flexibility they offer include women, first-generation, and millennial candidates.

“There is no doubt that these programs play an important role in the overall equity of graduate management education, attracting candidates who rely on flexible program delivery and may not otherwise pursue a business degree,” said Anthony Wilbon, dean of Howard University’s School of Business and a board member of GMAC.

Has Tech Lost its Luster?

After graduation, consulting remains the top post-MBA industry across generations and regions. That said, change may be on the horizon in the number two slot: the technology industry. According to this survey, Gen Z shows more interest in finance and accounting than technology.

Interestingly, GMAC collected data for this survey largely before the recent retraction of the tech industry. Even so, this year’s results demonstrate underlying challenges with the pipeline of MBA candidates interested in tech. It seems that Gen Z, women, and underrepresented U.S. candidates are less interested in the field.

The US Remains the Top Study Destination 

COVID-19 forced people around the world to stay at home, but prospective MBA applicants are again looking to study abroad. The number of prospective students interested in studying outside of their country of citizenship is up for 2023. This holds true especially in Europe and Asia/Pacific Islands compared to last year.

GMAC found that 84% of candidates from Asia want to study outside of their country, compared to 79%  last year. Likewise, 81% percent of candidates from Europe are looking to study outside of their home country, vs. 77% in 2022.

After losing the top spot for one year in 2020, the U.S. remains the most preferred study destination. Interest is driven by reputation and perceived career preparation, with 42% of respondents indicating interest, followed by Europe (37%) and Canada (9%). While candidates perceive U.S. business school programs as more expensive than others in Europe, Canada, or Australia, candidates also believe there is more financial aid available in the United States.

About the Survey

GMAC has published the Prospective Students Survey for more than a decade. It provides business schools with critical insights into the decision-making processes of people currently considering applying to a GME program. This year’s summary report considers data collected in 2022 from 2,710 respondents in 131 countries. Among them, 40% are female, 44% are younger than 24 years old, 21% are U.S. underrepresented population, and 55% majored in a non-business field as undergraduates.

Source: Graduate Management Admission Council


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