Berkeley Haas

Application Volume Drops at Top MBA Programs in US

The Financial Times reported this week that four of the most prestigious business schools in the US saw a drop in MBA application volume for 2018 matriculation. Harvard, NYU Stern, Duke Fuqua, and Berkeley Haas each reported a decrease in applications from 2017 that ranged from 4 percent to 7.5 percent.

According to Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) data, in the US full-time two-year MBA programs’ application volumes have been in decline since 2014. However, this is not consistent across programs. In 2017, those with larger classes (201 or more students) accounted for 6 percent of MBA programs, but 55 percent of applications and 32 percent of enrollments. Larger schools were more likely to report application volume increases in 2017, while smaller were more likely to have experienced decreases. This decrease now appears to have expanded to the large, prestigious MBA programs.

While the decline in applications has not yet affected Harvard’s 11 percent acceptance rate or median GMAT score of 730, it was fairly significant at 4.5 percent. Similarly, NYU Stern reported a nearly 4 percent drop, while Duke Fuqua and Berkeley Haas were at about 6 percent and 7.5 percent respectively.

In contrast, MBA application numbers globally continue to increase. “When looked at internationally, graduate business education is a growth stock. Applications to Canadian, European, and Asian schools are increasing at an enormous rate,” said Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke Fuqua. Other admissions representatives who spoke with the Financial Times pointed out a multi-faceted cause for the lower application rates in the US:

  • Decreasing numbers of international applicants to US schools, due to a less welcoming political climate, as well as increasingly rigid immigration requirements.

  • Increasingly competitive European and Asian MBAs, offered in English, for those wanting a global experience. Some of these well-ranked programs also offer expedited timelines.

  • Increasing tuition and a robust economic climate in the US, which increases the cost of an MBA in both direct costs and wages-lost.

  • Increasing interest in part-time, online, and/or one-year MBA programs.

Take-aways for prospective MBA students

  • If you have dual-citizenship, don’t forget to note this on your application. It could be advantageous for you in the admissions process.

  • Be sure to highlight your international experiences and interests in your application. Admissions officers want to create a diverse student body and, with fewer international applicants, these experiences are likely to stand out more.

  • Consider that in strong economic climates, with low unemployment, schools are likely to receive fewer applicants. While this may not significantly change acceptance rates at all of the most prestigious programs, it can provide some benefit with regard to both admissions likelihood, as well as the possibility for substantial merit-based scholarships.

  • Choose your MBA program carefully, rather than automatically selecting a full-time, two-year program. Learn from these trends, by thinking carefully about the type of MBA that will benefit you most. International programs, one-year or expedited programs, and part-time cohort-based programs can all be worthwhile for you and your career.