Building A Better Life More Important Than Income To Prospective MBAs

People thinking about going to business schools are more interested in enriching their lives than increasing their incomes, according to a survey of prospective postgraduate management studies students.

The survey, by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), showed 79% of prospective students worldwide are motivated to pursue further studies to better their lives and develop their potential – 15 percentage points more than the next-best motivator, increasing income.

SOURCE: GMAC Prospective Students Survey 2023.

Furthermore, women, millennials (born 1981-1996) and first-generation prospective students are all statistically more likely to indicate post-study career preference for the government or nonprofit sector, which tends to be more stable and socially engaged though less lucrative than the private sector.

Gen Z (born 1995-2010), on the other hand, are most interested in entering the finance and accounting industry, and about 10 percentage points more likely to cite increasing their incomes and expanding their networks as top motivators for pursuing GME than their older counterparts.

The survey is based on responses from 2,710 prospective graduate management students from 131 different countries. 44% of respondents were under the age of 24, while 55% majored in a non-business field as undergraduates.

GMAC CEO Joy Jones said there were meaningful shifts in the demographics of students interested in graduate management education.

“Understanding candidates from Gen Z – now the largest generation applying to business schools – is critical as programs plan for expanding the pipeline down the road,” she said.

The research showed the one-year, full-time MBA had surpassed the two-year, part-time MBA has the most popular program choice for prospective students.

Since 2019, the two-year MBA has been the preferred program among candidates globally. This year, the one-year MBA surpassed it as the most popular program choice, though the difference remains within the margin of error.

Taken together, the full-time MBA of any duration continues to surpass interest in more flexible or executive MBAs and business master’s programs.

According to the research, Gen Z is most interested in the two-year MBA and millennials are most interested in the one-year MBA. Despite growing up as digital natives, Gen Z also have a strong preference for in-person study, with 80 percent of Gen Z reporting preference for this modality compared to 69 percent of millennials.

This could be an indication of where each generation is in their career—older candidates may have more established networks or more responsibilities at work or at home, while younger candidates are more interested in expanding their networks and may have more ease entering and exiting GME.

Other takeaways from the research include:

  • Forty-two percent of respondents view sustainability or CSR as curricular must-haves and are more likely to seek out organizations involved in social good post-GME.
  • Candidates with math/science, social science/law, and arts/humanities backgrounds are more likely to seek out professional MBAs, such as flexible or executive MBAs.
  • Across gender, generation, and region, strategy is the most sought-after skill in a GME curriculum, as well as business data/analytics, leadership/ change management, and international management/business.
  • Though online and hybrid candidates are less likely to seek expanding their network from GME compared to candidates who prefer to study in person, most still view it as a motivating factor— but doubt networking opportunities online are comparable to in-person experiences.
  • When describing career goals, men tend to cite their next level or position (e.g., mid-level, executive, CEO), whereas women are more likely to cite their next step (e.g., increase in salary, get a promotion)
  • Asian and European candidates are more mobile than last year—84 percent of candidates from Asia are looking to study outside of their country of citizenship compared to 79 percent last year, and 81 percent of candidates from Europe are looking to study outside of their country of citizenship compared to 77 percent last year.
  • Almost half of GME candidates need to be convinced its cost does not outweigh its value.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (