What Motivates Business School Applicants to Study an MBA?

MBA students

Deciding on where to pursue an MBA is a difficult decision for any applicant to make. With hundreds of competing institutions, many with equally high standards of education and various program types on offer, knowing which one to select can be a daunting task.


Students are influenced by everything from funding availability, location and course costs, to future career options and a business school’s links with businesses, but which are the most important criteria for MBA applicants when looking for an institution? The QS Applications and Aspirations Report explores the findings of the latest TopMBA.com Applicant Survey to discover what MBA applicants consider the most important reasons for their school choice.

What motivates students?

While the motivating factors that persuade MBA students to choose one school over another will differ from person to person, there are definite trends we see among applicants.

Some students are already running established businesses, and are looking to pursue an MBA in order to better understand their industry, or bring a new perspective into their way of thinking. Others will have worked their way up within a company and are looking at the course as an opportunity to boost their careers. Then there are those who are using the course to switch career paths and explore the possibilities of other industries.

For those who have already founded their own companies, primary motivating factors included “to take my business to the next level,” “to spread my own business” and “I have a business, I want to run it better.” Primary motivations for people established within a company are often to learn new skills (chosen by 41.2% of all respondents), improve career prospects (42.0%) or to prepare themselves for a general management or leadership position (46.5%).

Candidates from the US and Canada and Western European candidates were more likely be motivated by increased salary than the global average (25.8% and 19.9% vs 16.6% respectively).

For candidates from Eastern Europe and Africa & the Middle East, the most important reason for them to pursue an MBA was the international experience (56.4% and 49.7% respectively). For students from Asia-Pacific, this was the second most important consideration (44.9%). The majority of MBA applicants from Latin America suggested that learning a new skill (50.4%) was their top motivating factor.

Where are they looking for information?

Unsurprisingly, for such an international degree, the vast majority of students look online for information. 99.0% of respondents told us that they used general online research to look up information about potential institutions, while 98.8% used the official website of an institution - highlighting the need for schools to optimize and monitor their online presence. Indeed, 95.9% of respondents suggested that they felt official websites were either useful or very useful to their searches. Ensuring that websites are easily navigable and engaging is essential for schools looking to attract students.

Rankings were another clear focus for applicants this year, with 96.4% of respondents telling us that they used rankings (91.2% finding them useful or very useful) to discover more about programs and to compare schools. In contrast to undergraduate level study, where alumni tend to factor a lot less in the decision-making process, 80.4% of MBA applicants suggested that discussions with alumni formed a significant part of their research. 95.8% of respondents suggested they found alumni discussions useful or very useful.


Inevitably, given the connectedness of today’s world, 79.4% of applicants used social media channels to research institutions. This method is particularly useful for enabling students to connect with alumni and to provide an insight into the social culture of a business school. What we can see from the above is how many of these interactions with prospective students schools are under the control of business schools. If they are to attract the top talent to their programs, they must ensure that they are maximizing these opportunities to talk to, and inform future MBA cohorts.

Amelia Hopkins
Written by Amelia Hopkins

Amelia Hopkins is a writer for TopMBA, covering the latest news in business and business education. A graduate of the University of Leeds and Yorkshire native, she enjoys reading, travelling and talking incessantly about the countryside.

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