About two-thirds of full-time M.B.A. programs that participated in the GMAC Application Trends Survey reported seeing a higher volume of applications to enter this fall than in 2005, compared with 21 percent that saw an increase during the previous admissions cycle. More than 60 percent of part-time programs and nearly 70 percent of executive programs also reported a spike in interest this year.
About 150 graduate business schools and 230 programs responded to the GMAC survey.
“If you’re an admissions officer, it’s great news, because it means you’re going to have a lot of decision making and have a richer pool of applicants,” said David A. Wilson, president and chief executive of the admission council. “And it’s great news for the M.B.A. itself.”
The GMAC report shows that prospective students applied to fewer schools in 2006 than they had in past years. Wilson said he's found that applicants walk out of business school fairs with fewer brochures these days because they have already explored their options online. Added Melinda Allen, assistant dean of admissions and career management at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management: "Students are more savvy these days. There is a lot more data out there. Students are making better decisions early on as to what are good fits."
So far this year, registration for the GMAT business school entrance exam  -- a fairly accurate indicator of potential student interest -- is up from this point in 2005. More than 140,000 people have already signed up for the test, and Wilson said if that trend continues, the total number of test takers could be close to a 10-year record.
Wilson said there were early signs that the 2006-7 academic year would be a strong one for business school applications: Programs reported having a noticeable increase in recruiters on campus in the fall, and the employers hired more current students than even a year ago. That, Wilson said, encourages potential students to apply. Other GMAC data show that new M.B.A. graduates with job offers earned a mean salary of $92,000 this year, up 4.2 percent from their counterparts in 2005.
"That's a sign of a stronger business job market," he said. “The M.B.A. is driven by economic decisions as much as by a passion to learn. As the economy stabilizes, employers go back and hire, which triggers applications the following year."
Both U.S. and foreign programs also largely reported seeing a spike in international applications. Minority applications were also up across the board, the report shows.
The GMAC survey also indicates that women are increasingly interested in business school: Roughly two of three full-time programs surveyed reported receiving more applications from women during this application cycle than the last one. Part-time and executive programs also followed that trend.
Many business schools have developed initiatives aimed at increasing female enrollment. At Vanderbilt University, for instance, female alumnae of the Owen school attend nearly every weekend recruiting event and information session. Allen said the school has seen a surge in female applicants in the past few years.
Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, said the survey results are consistent with trends she has noticed at Michigan. More recruiters are coming to campus. More women are applying. And over all, the full-time M.B.A. program saw a roughly 11 percent application spike from 2005, Koh said.
Last year, she said the increase in applicants was minimal. " 'Flat is the new up' was the mantra last year," Koh said. "We were lucky we didn’t see a decline then. Having anything in the double digits this year is a big step.”
Allen said the Owen school saw an application increase of between 5 and 10 percent this year, compared with a 20 percent jump from 2004 to 2005. She said concerted marketing and recruiting efforts helped the school's numbers that year.
Allen said the increase in applications isn't going to lead to a significant increase in program slots at Vanderbilt. But the admission council's survey shows that about a third of full-time programs and more than half of part-time programs planned to increase the size of their incoming classes for 2006.