Understanding the Decline in M.B.A. Applications

Political environment and improved job market are discouraging potential applicants, survey finds.

February 4, 2019

Seventy percent of M.B.A. programs report that their applications went down in 2018, according to a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep.

The survey was conducted of admissions officials at 150 programs, which included business schools at varying levels of prestige and competitiveness.

The admissions officials were asked for their take on why applications are down. Here are the top reasons:

  • International students are "concerned about the current political climate" in the U.S.: 31 percent.
  • The strong job market in the U.S.: 30 percent.
  • The cost of an M.B.A.: 17 percent.
  • Questions about the value of the M.B.A.: 13 percent.
  • The lack of one-year M.B.A. programs in the United States: 7 percent.
  • The perception that fewer jobs require an MBA than in years past: 3 percent.

Many of those surveyed expect the challenge posed by the current political climate in recruiting international students to continue. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said that they expected this issue to be a problem for M.B.A. programs "in the years to come." Last year, the figure was 68 percent.

“There’s no question that business schools are facing some significant headwinds that are largely out of their control when it comes to recruitment, particularly among international students," said Jeff Thomas, executive director of admissions programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

The Kaplan survey is one of several recent studies pointing to declines in the M.B.A. applicant pool.

All of the so-called M7 or very elite business schools reported drops in M.B.A. applications, this year, according to a survey by Poets and Quants. The drops ranged from 2.6 percent at Columbia University to 8.2 percent at the University of Chicago. Despite these drops, the business schools are all reporting stellar statistics on students and graduates.

A study by the Graduate Management Admission Council found declines in application volume for M.B.A. programs but gains for those in Asia, Canada and Europe.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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