Prospective MBAs Worry About Costs, But Still Believe An MBA Will Help Them “Stand Out At Work”

Prospective MBA students are still concerned about the costs of an MBA, but not the value or importance of the degree to career development, according to a new survey of more than 6,500 individuals worldwide who expressed interest in graduate business education in 2021.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a global association of leading graduate business schools,  has just released its GMAC Prospective Students Survey – 2022 Summary Report, which explores how candidate preferences have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While cost remains a primary concern in today’s dynamic economy with brisk job market and rising inflation, candidates from around the globe continue to perceive graduate management education as a tried-and-true pathway to advance professionally and position themselves to achieve their goals, consistent with pre-pandemic levels.

Globally, 4 out of 5 candidates stated that a graduate business degree allows them to stand out at work. Similarly, the full-time MBA program continues to be the most popular program option, with 1 out of 4 of all candidates preferring the two-year full-time format and another 1 in 5 preferring the one-year full time format.

“While the pandemic has altered aspects of the graduate management education landscape, the fundamental perceptions of the value of graduate management education generally and the MBA specifically continue to stay strong,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC.

“While there continue to be evolutions in candidate’s preferred study destinations, delivery formats, career paths and perceptions of admissions testing policies, if there were ever any concerns that the pandemic and its effects would diminish business school aspirants’ perceptions of the value of a degree, the latest GMAC findings of the Prospective Students Survey should help put them to rest.”

More candidates prefer to study closer to home while the U.S. and Europe intensify their competition for international candidates

More candidates from traditionally mobile markets are opting to study closer to home than they did before the pandemic. For example, among Central and South Asian candidates, the percentage who prefer to study internationally declined from 89 to 73 percent between 2019 and 2021.

Among East and Southeast Asian candidates, preference to study internationally also declined from 92 to 87 percent between 2020 and 2021, a possible indication that studying abroad was limited due to the pandemic-fueled travel restrictions.

Among international candidates – candidates whose preferred study destination differs from their country of citizenship – virtually the same proportion said in 2021 that the United States and Western Europe is their preferred destination (39%, respectively).

Among international MBA candidates specifically, the U.S. is the preferred destination of half (50%), expanding its lead over second place Western Europe (28%) between 2019 and 2021. In the meantime, Western Europe remains the preferred destination of more than half of international business master’s candidates.

Belief in the value of fully online education remains low while acceptance of hybrid formats increases

Candidates see higher value in the in-person business school experience compared with online as the share of surveyed candidates who prefer fully online programs stays flat. Among global prospective students surveyed in 2021, most disagree that online degree programs offer the same value as on-campus programs (73%). Nearly 4 in 5 disagree that the networking opportunities are equivalent, and 2 in 3 disagree that the career opportunities are the same. However, these negative views softened slightly between 2020 and 2021.

At the same time, preference for hybrid models has gone up significantly across candidate types, especially those who prefer Executive, Part-time, and Flexible MBA programs (44%, from 30% in 2019), but also those who want to study full-time to earn a business master’s (20%, from 13% in 2019) or MBA (13%, from 7% in 2019). Globally, 20 percent of candidates surveyed in 2021 prefer hybrid program delivery, up from 14 percent pre-pandemic. U.S. underrepresented minority candidates (28%) also express interest in hybrid programs, up significantly from the pre-pandemic level.

Consulting continues to top prospective student interests, but tech is still on the rise

Among candidates in the United States, where “the Great Resignation” has shaken up the job market, 42 percent identify themselves as “career switchers” ─ whose goal is to either change industries or job functions by pursuing a business degree ─ significantly higher than global levels at 32 percent.

As it was pre-pandemic, consulting continues to be the top industry and job function both men and women candidates aspire to. But there is growing interest in the technology industry, especially among the career switchers (50%) and non-business undergraduate majors (49%). Furthermore, between 2019 and 2021, interest in tech also increased with women (29% to 34%).

“As people perceive work differently after the pandemic, many become more open-minded to the variety of possible career paths they could pursue. It is encouraging to see that more women are pursuing a business degree as a way to build careers in the tech industry,” said Joy Jones, chief product officer and general manager of assessments at GMAC.

“Graduate business education continues to be in high demand because it opens the door to a wide array of industries and job functions, including areas that are less thought about or not previously considered by traditional candidates seeking to enter business schools.”

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 (