US Admissions to Fall as Prospective Candidates Choose ‘Job-first’

More than half of business school admissions officers in North America expect a fall in domestic MBA applications over the next twelve months according to a survey conducted by higher and graduate management education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

Specifically, 52% of respondents from North America forecast domestic applications will be slightly lower (30%) or much lower (22%) in 2022. The drop in GMAT tests taken in the US reflects and confirms the trend.

US citizens took 79,746 GMAT exams in 2017, compared to 38,509 in 2021.

By contrast, an overwhelming majority (89%) of European admission officers expect MBA applicants from across Europe to be about the same or slightly higher.

Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and CEO of QS Quacquarelli Symonds, said: “The ‘great resignation’ in the US created a buoyancy in job vacancies, presenting opportunities for career mobility for aspiring managers. As a result, there is less of an incentive to invest in an MBA to develop their skills and accelerate their career progression. As a result, potential MBA candidates in North America are currently thinking ‘job-first’ and not considering taking time out of their careers to study.

“In my experience, MBA demand is counter cyclical. With interest rates rising and market volatility, this situation could change quickly and MBA demand for full-time MBA studies in 2023 could see a significant uplift.”

The outlook regarding international candidates is more optimistic, with admissions teams in North America and Europe reporting year-on-year growth from India, Africa, and Latin America. Over 90% of the respondents expect international applications to remain stable or increase compared to 2021, while 32% of North American respondents expect international applications to be much higher.

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Quacquarelli added: “Prospective students have so much choice with growing numbers of business schools across the globe, the array of specialist master’s programs and the upsurge in online certificates and micro-credentials. Online and on campus, there are options to suit individual aptitudes, ambitions, and budgets. Yet, despite this increase in opportunities, for many around the world, an MBA from a globally recognised business school remains the gold standard in graduate management education.”

Other insights include:

  • Globally, admissions officers expect a growing interest in specialist master’s programs, with 78% forecasting applicant numbers will be about the same or slightly higher.
  • QS data shows a fluctuation in US candidates pursuing their MBA in Europe. In 2019, 3% of full-time MBA cohorts in Europe consisted of US students, rising to 5% in 2020. Initial data analysis for the class of 2021 shows a slight year on year decline.
  • An average of 5.6% of online MBA students in Europe are from the US, according to 2021 data supplied to QS. Online MBAs from top European business schools attract a growing number of US students.

Imperial College Business School enrolled 8% of students from the US in their online MBA program, while University College London (UCL) enrolled 12%.

James Berry, Director of UCL’s Online MBA, said: “Studying in Europe compared to the US is less expensive. Lately, there has been a proliferation of online educational opportunities, some of high quality and some of more dubious quality. What I’ve not seen from micro- credentials is a recreation of a learning environment, where students learn from faculty and each other. The depth and value of the MBA is the interactive classroom experience.”

The QS business school admissions pulse survey was conducted between 17-25 January 2022, receiving responses from more than 70 admissions officers in graduate management education recruitment.

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