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2021 Will Be Highly Competitive for MBA Applicants, Experts Say

2021 Will Be Highly Competitive for MBA Applicants, Experts Say main image

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in b-school applications in fall 2020, GMAC reports.

As the pandemic pushed professionals across the globe to reevaluate their careers, business schools reported a high volume of applications for their full-time, in-person MBA programs. This is a clear indication of the reputation of MBAs not only as resumé-booster, but as the preferred upskilling method in times of crises.

As Sangeet Chowfla, President and CEO at GMAC, said: “This year is like none other when observing and analyzing trends associated with applications to business school. While the environment has certainly been challenging for schools and candidates since the outset of COVID-19, one constant is the countercyclical nature of demand for an advanced business degree.

“The opportunity cost of leaving a job to pursue an MBA or business master’s lessens as economies begin to regress, as a result we are now seeing more people thinking about b-school to grow or improve their career prospects.”

Applications to business programs increasingly rapidly – but not acceptance rates

According to GMAC, applications to b-school increased by 26 percent in 2020, with two in three MBA programs reporting a rise.

Applications rose highest in the western hemisphere, particularly in Europe (24 percent), the US (21 percent), and Canada (13 percent). Unexpectedly, Asia is the only region that experienced a decrease of applications, with an overall declining rate of 7 percent.

However, this increase in applications in certain areas of the world didn’t result in higher acceptance rates. In fact, the report found that the median acceptance rate for MBA programs only increased by one percent, from 69 to 70 percent. Canada and the Asia Pacific were the only regions to admit higher numbers of students – with a growth rate of acceptance of 7 and 4 percent respectively –, while European and American b-schools either decreased admissions or complied with previous years.

These numbers are likely to remain consistent in 2021, as more candidates try their luck putting in b-school applications. But is a CV-boost the only reason for a spike in applications and competitiveness?

More favorable conditions for applying, but less spots available

While a desire to upskill is one of the main reasons for applying to b-school, experts believe other factors might lead to 2021 being the most competitive year for MBA admissions in recent history.

First, throughout summer 2020 many b-schools – including the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Businesswaived GRE and GMAT requirements for the 2020/2021 MBA admissions cycle. While this choice allowed candidates from a wider range of backgrounds to apply to business school, it also significantly increased the number of candidates who filled in applications.

Second, as many international students deferred their start until 2021 due to coronavirus travel restrictions – with deferral rates jumping to 6 percent this year as opposed to 2 percent in 2019 –, it’s likely that b-schools will have fewer spots up for grabs in the upcoming hiring season, making the admissions cycle even more competitive.

The earlier you apply, the better

So, how can candidates maximize their chances of landing a spot in 2021?

Experts recommend applying early, as schools tend to make the highest amount of offers in the first and second rounds – the fall and winter rounds.

If you don’t know where to start or are worrying about standing out in the saturated candidate pool, here’s our guide on how to write a successful MBA essay, and here’s how to impress recruiters in a video interview.

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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