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Application Numbers Fall for 53% of Two-Year MBA Programs in the US

GMAC’s new report surveys the application landscape for full-time MBA programs

Application numbers for full-time, two-year MBA programs in the US were down at 53% of business schools surveyed by GMAC this year. Globally, 48% of two-year programs reported a drop in applications compared to last year, while 9% said there was no change in numbers. This is the first time since 2012 that fewer than half of programs surveyed by GMAC have witnessed year-on-year application growth. It’s also quite a change from 2014, a year in which 61% of two-year programs reported rising application numbers.


Conversely, almost three-quarters of full-time, one-year MBA programs in Europe cited a rise in application volume this year. The survey holds that this is a significant finding for a region in which business programs have generally seen stagnant volumes for several years. However, this growth has not been replicated outside of Europe: Fewer than half of one-year MBA programs available in the US, East and Southeast Asia reported a rise in applications this year.

For its 2016 Application Trends Survey Report, GMAC collected responses from 100 full-time, two-year programs in the US and from 33 programs outside the standard-bearer of the two-year format. Meanwhile, 105 full-time MBA programs taken over one year were surveyed, of which 25 are based in Europe, 46 in the US and 12 in East and Southeast Asia.

Drops to application numbers seen among the smaller two-year programs

Declining application numbers for two-year MBAs can be traced to programs with class sizes categorized as small (53 or fewer students) and mid-sized (54 to 120 students) in GMAC’s report. While only 40% of mid-sized programs and 33% of small programs reported a rise in applications, 57% of those with large class sizes (more than 120 students) actually saw a rise in their application numbers on last year.

From where are people applying to full-time MBA programs?

Fewer than half of applicants to full-time, two-year MBA programs in the US hail from the US, according to GMAC’s new survey. While 47% of applications received by schools in the US did originate from domestic applicants, almost as many stemmed from Asia-Pacific: Central and South Asia accounted for 21% of the year’s total, with a further 19% coming from applicants in East and Southeast Asia and 1% from those in Australia and the Pacific Islands. The remaining 12% of applications received were submitted by those holding citizenship in Latin America (3%), the Middle East (4%), Africa (2%), Europe (2%) and Canada (1%).

As one might expect, one-year MBA programs in Europe saw an even greater proportion of applications come from outside the country in which the program is based. In fact, only 11% of applications to these programs were submitted by those classified as domestic candidates this year. In addition, although around a quarter came from those based in the region (23% from Western Europe and 4% from Eastern Europe), the application volume from Asia-Pacific was higher than this. Those holding citizenship in a Central or South Asian country accounted for 23% of applications, while those from East & Southeast Asia accounted for 12%, and Australia & Pacific Islands, 1%. Further highlighting the one-year format’s global appeal, 15% of applications came from candidates in either Africa or the Middle East, 12% from Latin America and 10% from the US or Canada.  

GMAC survey shows that schools favour merit-based MBA scholarships

Whether a candidate opts for a one or two-year, full-time MBA program, GMAC has calculated that approximately 27% of those enrolling can expect to secure some form of merit-based MBA scholarship from their chosen school. In comparison, the number of those expected to win either a fellowship or need-based MBA scholarship through the school is only 10%.  

While many may think that employer sponsorship has long been on the wane for full-time MBA programs, 47% of two-year programs told GMAC that between 1 and 9% of their enrolled students this year come wholly or partially funded by their existing employers. Only 28% of programs said that none of their students come with employer funding, with the remainder noting proportions of employer-funded students that are higher than 10%. The equivalent figures for the one-year MBA are similar – while 30% of programs said none of their enrolled students will have employer funding, 37% said between 1 and 9% of the class will and a further 13% of responding programs said that between 10 and 19% will. 

EMBA and online MBA application numbers rise

Away from the full-time format of the qualification, GMAC’s survey also notes that 51% of executive MBA (EMBA) programs saw a rise in application volume this year, compared to numbers received in 2015. This is eight percentage points up on the year-on-year growth reported last year and the first time since 2008 that an increase in applications has been reported by a majority of responding programs. A total of 63 EMBA programs responded to the survey, of which 46 are based in the US.


In addition, a majority of the 33 online MBA programs which responded to the survey cited a rise in application volume, highlighting continued interest in this growing format. There was also a significant year-on-year rise to the number of applications received by master’s in data analytics programs – a relatively new area of specialization in graduate business education. Diversification in program choice was a point emphasized by GMAC’s president and CEO, Sangeet Chowfla, when looking at the overall findings of a survey to which 872 graduate management programs responded in total. “With the competitive landscape changing, applicants have more options from which to choose, creating a mixed picture for business schools today.”

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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