Today’s MBA Applicants Know What They Want

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has released its 2016 Prospective Students Survey Report, which shows that business school candidates today consider applying to fewer program types and are more focused on a particular postgraduate career path.

On average, prospective students considered 2.8 program types in 2015, down from 3.1 in 2014. For their postgraduate careers, 71% of those surveyed cited a single industry of interest, compared with 58% in 2014.

GMAc surveyIn addition, 61% of prospective students cited a single job function of interest, compared with 46% in 2014. The economy may play a role in this phenomenon as prospective students may perceive it to be easier to go after their “dream job” in this market compared with the post-recession years.

GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey, conducted throughout 2015, explores the global business school pipeline from the candidates’ points of view — analyzing the motivations, intended career outcomes and program choices shared by more than 10,000 individuals worldwide who responded.

“Each year graduate business programs set admission goals to engage students from around the world who are the most likely to succeed in their classrooms,” says Bob Alig, GMAC’s executive vice president for school products. “The insights provided within this survey report are timely and actionable and a valuable resource to schools seeking to grow their candidate pipelines.”

Additional key findings within the report focus on preferred program types, school selection criteria, career aspirations, timing, and social media.

Greater Interest in Specialized Business Master’s Programs: Globally, 50% of prospective students are considering only MBA programs, and slightly more than a quarter, or 28% , are considering both MBA and specialized business master’s programs.

One-fourth (23%) are considering only specialized business master’s programs, such as Master of Accounting or Master of Finance, which represents an increase since 2009, when just 15% of candidates were considering only specialized master’s programs.

In Western Europe, however, the pipeline has notably shifted toward specialized (pre-experience) business master’s programs, especially within the past seven years. In 2009, 49% of prospective students were considering only MBA programs and 22% were considering only specialized business master’s programs. In 2015, 36% were considering only MBA programs and 45% were considering only specialized master’s programs.

Prospective Students Seek Blend of Classroom and Online Learning: Most candidates considering graduate management education seek a blend of classroom instruction and online learning, regardless of program type preferred.

GMAC survey

According to the survey results, even candidates who prefer to enroll in an online MBA program still expect 10% of their course instruction to be delivered in the classroom to allow for networking and experiential learning opportunities. Those contemplating a full-time two-year MBA expect to experience 86% of their coursework in a classroom setting and want 14% of their courses delivered online.

Timing of Application Submission: Prospective students begin forming their short lists of schools one year prior to application submission, on average. A specific event or circumstance often triggers a prospective student’s consideration of earning a graduate management degree.

Most common events include: seeking a new job but lacking skills to be competitive for the positions sought (27%), reaching a plateau at work (17%), and lacking knowledge to do a job (17%).

Social Media Use Is Pervasive: Almost all (96%) prospective students use social media. Of those that do, 67% use it for activities related to the pursuit of graduate management education, such as getting program information, learning about upcoming events, connecting with current students, alumni, or faculty, and researching graduate management education.

Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular social media sites used globally, with the exception of China, where the instant messaging platform Tencent QQ is most popular.

“For the first time, members of Generation Z are included in our analysis,” says Alig. “We found that Millennial and Gen Z candidates are more likely than past generations to have ‘stretch schools’ on their short lists. All things considered, these candidates want to get into the best program possible — an indication of their high level of aspiration.”


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