In 2020, there were 6,971 applicants to Columbia Business School. In 2021, that number dropped to 6,535; By 2022, their number was only 6177.
The NYU Stern School of Business reported a 10% decline from the previous period. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s full-time MBA program saw a 14% drop for its incoming class of 2024. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management had 20% fewer applicants, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business had 9% fewer applicants. . (Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management in New York bucked the trend with a 21% increase in applicants.)
David White, founding partner of Menlo Coaching and an MBA admissions consultant, says that while the numbers are interesting, there may be a simple explanation. Last year and 2020 were unusual years for MBA applications for several reasons, he says.
“Some universities have extended deadlines or waived GMAT/GRE requirements due to COVID, and applicants are worried about losing their jobs due to COVID-related layoffs,” he says. “As these factors return to normal, applications will return to pre-Covid levels.”
In addition, the unemployment rate in the United States is at 3.5%, which causes some candidates to get a job instead of taking a break from business school.
Meanwhile, some programs are taking practical steps to encourage more applicants.
For example, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2020 MBAi program Combining traditional MBA courses with courses related to artificial intelligence, White says, is to target AI professionals who may not think a traditional MBA is relevant to them.
And in August of this year, Harvard Business School announced that it would offer more full-tuition scholarships, now covering about 10% of its student body.
The Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has grown its portfolio of digital commerce offerings to appeal to a broader student audience, says Nerissa Brown, associate dean of graduate programs.
Gies has added an online Master of Science in Management (iMSM) and is launching a suite of online graduate certificates in a number of business majors. It also launched two certificates in strategic leadership, management and accounting data analytics in August, and a third in digital marketing in spring 2023.
Brown says the drop in applicants is just cyclical.
“Historically, when the economy and the job market are strong, we’ve seen a decline in graduate business programs, which is likely what we’re seeing now,” Brown said. “On the flip side, applications tend to increase during economic downturns or recessions.”
Gies says that while on-campus programs are also affected by the disruption to international goals, he sees the school still recovering from the pandemic.
One silver lining for students: Acceptance rates are rising due to declining applicants. For example, the acceptance rate in Colombia was 22.1% in 2022, compared to 16.2% in 2020.