What Do MBA Applicants Want in a Business School and Career?

What Do MBA Applicants Want in a Business School and Career? main image

The QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey will open your eyes to some fascinating trends in graduate business schools. While the report is chock full of data that is valuable to anyone interested in MBA applications, three headlines – the importance of scholarships, the gender gap in particular sectors of interest, and the rise of aspiring entrepreneur applicants – will grab your attention.

To generate this report, QS surveyed 3,850 MBA applicants in 127 countries during the 2016-17 academic year. QS sent out survey invitations to the tens of thousands of people who registered for the QS World MBA Tour during this time.

What we learned was nothing short of fascinating. The findings continuously prove to us that MBA programs have to be adaptable to the changing times, and the times are changing faster than ever before. Also, as the competition for spots at top MBA programs has grown fiercer, business schools have had to improve their means of wooing candidates.

Reading the results of the applicant survey can help both sides better prepare for the future. Discover the big news coming out of this report:

Scholarships are a must

In the old days, some American MBA programs did not even offer scholarships. What merit aid they did put on the table was often miniscule, especially compared to undergraduate offerings.

Now, however, financial aid offices can’t afford to be cheap with scholarships. After all, 41% of MBA applicants would no longer consider an MBA if they were to receive no form of scholarship. Nearly 53% of respondents said their largest funding source is scholarships.

The breakdown by region is telling, too. Nearly half of Western Europeans (46.9%), Asian Pacific (45.9%), and African and Middle Eastern (44.8%) applicants would need scholarship money to consider an MBA. On the other hand, North American respondents, possibly because of the reliance on the established loan system, were not as reluctant without scholarships.

Clearly, the ever-rising cost of tuition matters to applicants. And scholarships are a way to make up for it and attract top talent. Schools will have to make this a priority if they want to remain competitive.

Another gender gap calls our attention

Some say 2018 is the year of the woman. Business schools have been aiming to attract more women to MBA programs for years. They’ve seen some progress. Women make up 42% of total applicants now, in fact. As the Forté Foundation has told us, the hope for reaching 50% is no longer out of reach. It could happen sooner than we think. But women remain locked into certain industries and largely absent from others.

As this report reveals, women are still more interested in marketing. More worrisome, however, is their lack of representation in finance. Across the board, men and women still see consulting, finance, and technology (in that order) as their top post-MBA career choices. Men, however, rated finance as their second choice behind consulting (33.4%), whereas women only chose it as the sixth most popular option (only 23.3% would consider it).

Much of this probably has to do with the fact that finance has been slower to include women in leadership than other industries. The culture is not as appealing with grueling schedules that don’t allow for much else, including raising a family. Although this should be a concern of men, too, women are the ones who traditionally take on the burdens at home.

In addition, women show a greater interest in marketing and the aspect of business that draws on communication and media and entertainment, where women have long had a stronger presence. This finding should be of interest to business schools trying to guide students’ careers but also to recruiters. Obviously, finance firms should continue making efforts to recruit women into leadership positions. In general, they should always be aiming to attract a more diverse team.

Business schools bring on the entrepreneurs

There was a time when people wondered if entrepreneurship could even be taught. Many who wanted to be their own boss never considered an MBA as an option. Then, business schools started shouting from the rooftops about how the degree could be viable for those who wanted to test ideas and launch a company.

Business schools began offering time, attention, resources, and even seed money to students with feasible business ideas. People began to study how to be entrepreneurial even if they were planning on entering the C-suite of an already established organization.

The leading specialization for applicants was entrepreneurship/innovation, which captured 36% of the vote. International management, strategy, and finance respectively follow it.

Tomorrow’s leaders want to control their own destiny. More and more, they are seeing business school as the path to that goal. Business schools – and those who recruit talent from them – must recognize the unique needs of these aspirants and respond accordingly.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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