Apps soar to save levels
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. “
Mark Twain’s famous remark, in the text of a cable he sent from London after his obituary was published in error, one might as well be talking about the most popular degree in business: the MBA.
For years, opponents have written obituaries for the most successful postwar educational product, even though it has remained the most popular graduate degree in the United States ever since. surpass master’s degree in education back in 2010-2011. But in recent years, applications for two-year residential MBA programs have declined and several business schools, including the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa, have closed their full-time MBA offers.
Success often breeds contempt. So there has been an endless parade of critics eager to write obituaries for the MBA. But if there’s ever been a time for these critics to eat a humble pie, it’s now. Applications for top MBA programs are skyrocketing. In the admission cycle that has just ended for this fall’s courses, applications to the top 25 business schools are up 22.6% on average. The windfall has led many schools to increase class sizes to record levels.
Twelve schools recorded double-digit percentage increases in the number of claims, led by USC’s Marshall School of Business, which recorded a incredible 66.4% jump in applications; Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, just behind with 63.4%; and CMU Tepper School of Business (60.2%), Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management (53.8%), and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School (43.8%). At the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, the 99-day third-round extension resulted in a wild jump of 364% in MBA applications for the round, which ended up giving the school an overall increase of 37.7%.
“This is definitely a folder for books,” said Danielle Richie, senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment at Kenan-Flagler, of the 2019-2020 cycle. “We increased the class size because we had so many strong, quality applicants that we really wanted to create a diverse class from the increased pool. “
The main reason for the large increase in volume is the pandemic-induced recession. Historically, applications for graduate programs increase when the economy collapses. This happens because young professionals are made redundant or see their prospects for promotion and increased responsibilities diminish. Recessions are therefore ideal times to take time off work and improve skills.
When COVID hit, many business schools extended their deadlines and made it a bit easier to apply for their programs. These actions opened the door for young people in their twenties who suddenly believed that an MBA degree on their resume would be very valuable to their careers.
But we are also seeing pent-up demand for the MBA after a long period of economic growth and a tight labor market where many could secure job opportunities and salary increases without a graduate degree. Additionally, schools have raised tens of millions of dollars in scholarships to offset the high price of diploma stickers, making the MBA experience cheaper than it looks.
In this new 2020-2021 admission cycle, many schools say the push is continuing. Applications are ongoing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business for its recently closed first round deadline. They are also at Columbia Business School, which set a new application record for 2019-2020.
So it turns out that these obituaries for the MBA were clearly premature.