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GMAC annual survey finds international applications to business schools soared back as domestic demand dips

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Total applications to graduate business schools dipped from the pandemic-level spikes, slipping 3.4 percent year-on-year among a matched sample of programs, according to a survey report released on Nov 15 by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

This comes after application volumes increased 2.4 percent year-on-year in 2020 amid the start of the pandemic and sustained that level of demand in 2021, when schools reported a 0.4 percent year-on-year increase. As the pandemic’s effects on mobility lessened this admissions cycle, however, international applications saw a remarkable rebound, particularly for those applying to programs in the United States. Most US programs reported international application increases, especially full-time two-year MBA programs (80% of programs) and STEM-designated programs (61%). Similarly in Europe, most MBA programs either saw stability or more applications from abroad this year.

The largest and most widely cited survey of its kind in the industry, the GMAC 2022 Application Trends Survey was conducted between July and September with application figures submitted by 950 programs of 264 business schools in 33 countries worldwide. The survey aims to examine the rapidly shifting landscape of demand for graduate management education (GME) programs. An annual survey in its 24th year, the 2022 study reflects perhaps the end of the pandemic- disrupted years and offers insight into how the post-pandemic market may take shape.

Notably, most programs in Europe and Asia grew or maintained women’s representation in applicant pools. A majority of responding programs in Europe (58%) and Asia (57%) grew or sustained the number of applications received from women. In addition, more than half of US programs maintained or grew applications from underrepresented populations (URP), particularly master of data analytics (66%) and master in management (65%).

“I’m very pleased to see that women in Europe and Asia and underrepresented groups in the US are increasingly aspiring to pursue the business education that could empower and equip them to achieve their career objectives,” said Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC.

Other Key Findings

Global applications to business master’s programs—including master in management, master of finance, and master of data analytics—grew year-on-year by 3.2 percent. All business master’s program types in the United States had a greater share of programs report increases in international applications than decreases, except for master of accounting. International applications to US programs were up at an especially high proportion of specialized degrees, including master of supply chain management (93%), master in marketing (76%), and master of data analytics (61%).

“The business master’s programs have traditionally been attractive to international candidates. As the pandemic-induced restrictions gradually ease and people learn to live alongside and cope with the virus, we expect international mobility to continue to bounce back,” said Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean and professor of finance at Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and a member of the GMAC board of directors.

Asia retained more talent in-region while Canada experienced a reverse in application trends

Business schools in the Asia region were able to attract otherwise mobile candidates during the pandemic. While roughly equal shares of responding Asia programs reported total application volume growth and declines this year, those who experienced growth or stability saw it in both domestic (60%) and international applications (63%). This trend is consistent with GMAC’s survey of prospective students released earlier this year when the data suggest that candidates from some traditionally mobile regions of Asia may be increasingly opting to study domestically.

Canadian programs saw significant drops in both domestic and international applications. Among Canadian programs that responded to each of the last two years’ surveys, total applications were down 23 percent year-on-year, with 75 percent of programs reporting declines in domestic applications and 68 percent reporting declines in international applications. This reversal comes after years of consistently positive outcomes for Canadian schools dating back to 2017, coinciding with the reduction of visa availability in the US.

US flexible MBA programs gained traction despite declines in domestic demand for professional MBA programs

This year, slightly more than half of flexible MBA programs─ which allow their students to change between full-time and part-time status throughout their time in the program─ reported application volume growth. In addition, women accounted for 44 percent of flexible MBA applicants, which is higher than any other US MBA program type. At the same time, most professional MBA programs in the US received fewer applications this year, including online MBA (76% of programs), part-time MBA (75%), and executive MBA (67%). In fact, US online MBA programs saw a second consecutive year of application declines after a 2020 pandemic boom.

“With the job market being white hot and the Great Resignation reducing the total workforce, it is no surprise that programs offering the most flexibility were the most attractive to working professionals, especially women,” said Maite Salazar, chief marketing officer at GMAC.

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