Wednesday, April 08, 2015 at 2pm

New GMAC Research Gives Snapshot of Prospective MBAs: MBA News

GMAC applicant trends

GMAC has released the latest edition of its annual mba.com Prospective Students Survey, which aims to provide a snapshot of trends among prospective specialized master’s and MBA candidates (in a similar vein to the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey). The global survey draws upon the huge pool of future advanced-level business education candidates who register on mba.com in preparation for sitting the GMAT, with this year’s report based on the responses of 12,000 prospective candidates.

So, what did this year’s findings reveal?

MBA or MSc?

One of the biggest questions hanging over the contemporary business education landscape in the 21st century is MBA or MSc? Specialized master’s degrees have dominated the discourse, but it seems the MBA still has an edge over these pre-experience degrees among GMAT test-takers (factoring in of course, the element of bias in the findings of a survey of a test very closely associated with the MBA).

A total of 40% of respondents were considering a full-time, two-year MBA, while 39% were considering the one-year equivalent. Part-time (23%), flexible (19%), executive (13%) and online MBA (12%) programs also figured. On the other side of the MBA or MSc dilemma, finance was most popular master’s (22%), followed by accounting (18%), management (16%), international management (13%), marketing (11%) and data analytics (8%).

Notably, 80% of respondents to the 2014 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey revealed they were planning on hiring MBAs, compared to 50% who said they were looking for master in management (MiM) graduates, 45% for master of accounting graduates and 44% for master of finance graduates. Those opting for the MBA are making a prudent choice.

MBA rankings: Not the most important factor

One of the findings highlighted by GMAC is the fact that while MBA rankings are certainly important to prospective students, they are certainly not the sole consideration for prospective students. Indeed, MBA rankings come lower in the list of information sources than schools’ own websites (this mirrors QS findings).

Study destination is also an important consideration, with over half of test takers indicating that they want to study outside of their home country. The US remains number one, but it is by no means as dominant as it has been in the past (66% of respondents indicated a desire to study there, compared to 73% in 2010 for instance), followed by the UK, Canada, France and India.

Different countries were popular for different reasons – for instance, those opting to study in Canada, Hong Kong or Australia, were looking for a friendly destination, while France, the Netherlands and the US were popular among those focused on accelerating an international career.

Choosing an MBA: Challenges and timelines

When choosing an MBA, financial issues are, as ever, the biggest hurdle. Nearly half of candidates are concerned that attending a business school will cost more money than they have access to, while the proportion who are concerned about taking on large amounts of debt stands at 44%. Notably, however, the report points out that both of these figures are down on the equivalent figures from 2010.

The timescale in which these concerns come to the fore is, on average, around two years – from the time an applicant first considered a school up until the point of application. There is, as one might expect, a good deal of variation in this – depending, of course, on aspects such as how financially confident an applicant is.

It takes, the report states, around three months for GMAT registrants to choose a program type, with 93% having a solid first choice school by then. In a note for schools, it seems one year before the application deadline is the time to reach out, while it appears to take nine months between an applicant drawing up a shortlist and sitting the GMAT.

Generational differences

One of the most interesting set of findings in this report is those looking at the generational differences between Millennial, Generation X and Baby Boomer respondents.

Some may come as less of a surprise – Millennials are the keenest users of Facebook and will use social media as a means of staying in touch with friends and family, while Baby Boomers are the greatest advocates of LinkedIn, and use social media in order to develop a professional network.

However, a series of binaries around the issue of business school culture is maybe a little more thought-provoking. Millennials are, for instance, keener for a school to focus on research, while Baby Boomers are more interested in teaching by far (Gen X falls somewhere in the middle, as they do consistently, it seems). The older respondents get, the more they favor a casual environment over a formal one, while younger candidates look for authority over egalitarianism, and a competitive environment over a collaborative one.

The full report is available on GMAC.com for registered users. The 2015 edition of the QS Applicant Survey will be released this summer.

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Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.