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Should I Care MBA Applications are Declining?

October 10, 2018

GMAC is out with their annual survey on MBA application trends in 2018. There is much focus online on the decline in applications to US schools (they were the only region tracked that showed Y/Y decline in application volumes), and possible reasons for that. It is reasonable to assume changing US immigration policies are having an impact (applications from overseas fell 10.5%, while domestic applications only fell 1.8%), but there are clearly other factors, as domestic applications did fall.

So what else could be happening? Based on discussions with our clients, the strong economy is a main factor. Compensation, especially in finance and consulting fields, remains rich, leading many to consider a 1-2 year delay in an MBA (or more flexible ways of getting it, as applications to 1-year and part-time programs outperformed two-year full-time programs). Further, many joined startups that are now facing lucrative exit options (I.e. IPOs, acquisition), and thus face the prospect of being able to achieve their longer-run goals (I.e. social enterprise) without an MBA. Finally, there remains the steady drumbeat of business leaders such as Mark Cuban and Elon Musk who question the value of MBAs. Bottom line, people feel they have more alternatives.

While there are various ways to slice and dice the data, of key importance is how to these findings impact you, and your decision to apply this year, next year, or any other year.

The short answer: not much impact if any

The fact is that any of the top programs remain tough to get into (GMAC noted 117,000 applications were made to US-based schools), so focusing on how big your window is to squeeze through is likely to distract you from focusing on what makes you a special fit into the schools you are targeting. Further, the numbers alone may deceive you; 90% of programs noted applicant pools as good or better than last year, so the people choosing not to apply may skew towards candidates with weaker profiles to begin with. Finally, if you’re looking at any of the fantastic schools in Europe and emerging powerhouses in Asia-Pacific, applications there rose. Bottom line, the competition you face remains tough as ever.

Instead of worrying about what those around you are doing, focus on your own applications, and highlight what makes you a truly unique addition to the schools you are targeting. Tens of thousands of amazing people around the world are doing the same...