By Debra Felix, MBA, PhD, IECA (MD)
My conversations this fall with MBA admissions officers at three schools—an Ivy League university, a state flagship university, and an elite private school—uncovered the following trends:
1. The number of domestic applicants has been falling, so MBA programs are filling more of their spots with international students. The number of students coming from Japan (who are sponsored by their companies) is also down, but applications from India and China are high. Hundreds of Indian students with IT backgrounds apply every year. The number of applicants from Korea is also up. Enrolling international students is difficult, however, because of tight visa regulations, extremely expensive MBA programs, and a lack of financial resources for non–US citizens.
2. The top 25 MBA programs now cost—using conservative 2014 figures—between $140,000 and $203,000 for the two-year degree.
3. MBA programs are competing fiercely for the best applicants and even top schools offer merit-based scholarships to attract the applicants they want the most. In an attempt to increase applications from domestic students, some MBA programs began to accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT, but applications did not increase.
4. The deans of MBA programs are very competitive and want the average GMAT scores of their incoming classes to continue to rise. Many are increasing class sizes for financial reasons and are asking their admissions offices to focus on enrolling students who “place well” at graduation.
5. Admissions outreach includes an element of convincing potential applicants that the MBA degree is still valuable and flexible because companies value the degree and starting salaries continue to rise. Apparently, MBA programs compete more directly with JD programs than was true in the recent past, and parents seem to have come to the questionable conclusion that the JD is a “safer” degree than the MBA.
6. MBA programs are increasing the amount of experiential learning in their programs, which may include study abroad. Those experiences greatly enhance a student’s learning and other outcomes, but they are also expensive additions to what used to be a more traditional, cheaper classroom-based program.
7. Applicants’ work experience is critical. The average applicant has about three years of postcollege work experience. Admissions committees generally frown on an applicant quitting a job to prepare for the GMAT or to complete applications. Gaps in work experience are generally disapproved of for any reason, as are skill-based résumés that attempt to hide gaps in productive employment.
8. One admissions officer recommends that college students take the GMAT during their senior year or right after graduation if they think they might later apply to an MBA program. Their scores will be highest then and are good for five years.
9. The elite and private programs, especially, are trying to increase the number of women, underrepresented minority students, military veterans, and LGBTQ students in their programs. Public and part-time MBA classes are generally more diverse.
Debra Felix previously served as Columbia Business School’s director of admission. She can be reached at [email protected]