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New GMAC Report Suggests Applicants Are Decisive Explorers

GMAC's 2016 applicant survey

There’s a new level of decisiveness about prospective MBA students and the ways in which they intend to use the qualification, according to the findings of a new GMAC survey. Increasingly, they know where they want to work when they graduate and even the specific function they’d like to perform once there. At the same time, however, most applicants see business school as a time of exploration, in which they can discover new opportunities and reflect on what it is they most want from their professional lives. 

Clarity of aims seen in GMAC survey

A clear 71% majority among 10,000 applicants (around three-quarters of which are looking at different MBA program options) surveyed across 2015 by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) identify just one industry in which they wish to work after graduating, a substantial increase on 2014’s equivalent figure of 58%. Tangible industry goals are backed up by a clear idea of functions they wish to perform – 61% of these applicants cite just one job function of interest, up from 46% in 2014.

While applicants’ top industry choices haven’t changed much from previous years (consulting and finance still lead the way, ahead of products and services), GMAC does note a change in preferred job functions among its sample. In this, finance and consulting roles are said to be losing ground to those concerning marketing and sales – a preferred job function for 30% of applicants. Such changes could relate to applicants’ greater tendency to pick just one job function as their preference.   

This sureness of action trickles down to the point of application in certain ways. GMAC’s respondents include those interested in all forms of postgraduate business education, from specialized master’s programs to the full-time MBA, and all the alternative formats in which the MBA is offered. Yet, 36% of those surveyed say they’re only interested in one type of program and it’s the prospective full-time MBA students that are the most single-minded in this sense. Even so, there is some room for maneuver between the varying lengths of study available with a full-time program. Among those whose preference is the two-year MBA, 32% would also consider a one-year option, while 39% of those who prefer a one-year MBA would also consider a two-year program.

Meanwhile, when it comes to school selection, it seems that almost everybody has a favorite, no matter where they are in their application timeline. A whopping 90% of all respondents cite a preferred school – a figure that drops only to 79% when focusing solely on those who are still to decide whether or not they will pursue postgraduate business education at all.

73% of full-time MBA applicants see b-school as a time for exploration 

Prospective MBA students and explorationIn spite of indicating an increasing clarity of aims in the mindset of applicants, GMAC’s survey also shows that the vast majority of people regard postgraduate business education as a time in which they can encounter and explore new career possibilities. This, the report finds, is particularly true for prospective full-time MBA students – 73% of this group say they view the business school experience as a process of exploration.

But how exactly does exploration play out at business school? The report cites the strength of applicant interest in various aspects of the business school experience that lie outside the classroom. Among prospective full-time MBA students, the number of those looking to participate in student clubs during their program is, at 57%, second only to the number who hope to pursue an internship while enrolled (68%). In addition, 41% hope to be able to engage in a study project that brings in real-world experience and 37% would like to take part in a case competition – the very same proportion as the number of applicants who are interested in study abroad options. In this light, we might argue that maximizing the business school experience is a clear ambition in itself.

Triggers and reservations among prospective MBA students

GMAC’s survey also asked prospective MBA students, and those applying to related postgraduate programs, what it is that made them seek out these degrees. The most common triggers behind their desire to pursue a course of study are shown below:

  • Sought new job, lacked skills to be competitive (cited by 27% of respondents)
  • Reached a plateau at work (cited by 17%)
  • Lacked knowledge to do job (cited by 17%)

Respondents were also asked what might put them off from applying. Some reservations take into account the sacrifices one must make to engage fully in the business school experience (no doubt by exploring some of the aspects detailed above). A quarter of applicants in this survey are mindful of the time and energy business school requires, with a slightly smaller proportion of 22% concerned about how it might affect their personal relationships. However, cost is unsurprisingly the number one consideration – half of the sample indicated that a degree might require more money than they have available and 46% express a concern that they may have to take on debt to study.

Financing postgraduate business education

When it comes to financing postgraduate business education, a sizeable 63% proportion are expecting to receive some form of scholarship, fellowship or grant. However, approximately half of respondents also expect to have to take a loan, and almost as many expect they will draw from personal earnings, savings or even the bank of mom and dad.

As applicants must often combine a few of these different financial sources to cover the full cost of attending business school, the GMAC report also provides an illustrative mix of sources that might allow them to make their enrollment a reality, based on each source’s average levels of expectation. In this, 26% of a degree’s cost is expected to come from forms of scholarships and 20% from loans. However, a further 23% is expected to come from a combination of an applicant’s personal earnings and savings, while 19% might stem from parental support. The remaining 10% proportion takes into account the possibility of securing employer assistance (where expectations are highest among those looking at part-time MBAs) and the earnings of a partner or significant other.

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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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