Corporate Finance

Slump in MBA Applications Hits Elite Schools

A new survey suggests Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford are starting “to show signs of struggling to lure young professionals out of the strong job ma...
Matthew HellerOctober 2, 2018
Slump in MBA Applications Hits Elite Schools

The decline in applications to MBA programs in the U.S. appears to have spread to elite schools, with Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford all experiencing slumps this year.

Overall, U.S. business schools received 140,860 applications for programs including the traditional two-year MBA, down 7% from the previous year, according to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

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It was the fourth straight year that U.S. applications have declined. And in 2018, as The Wall Street Journal reports, even elite universities started “to show signs of struggling to lure young professionals out of the strong job market.”

Harvard Business School received 9,886 applications for this fall’s entering class, down 4.5% from last year — the biggest drop since 2005. Applications to Wharton and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business fell 6.7% and 4.6%, respectively.

“People are thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, if the top is struggling to find applicants, what are the rest of us going to do?’” said George Andrews, director of admissions at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

According to the Journal, MBA applications have fallen as Americans who are already saddled with college debt “have grown increasingly reluctant to leave behind jobs for a year or more to pursue one of the nation’s most expensive degrees, school administrators say — particularly as the economy has improved.”

The top-tier programs “were until recently thought to be immune to the shakeout plaguing less-prestigious programs,” the Journal noted.

The GMAC survey found a 1.8% decline in domestic application volume and a 10.5% drop in international volume across all program types. Only four in 10 schools reported growth in domestic application volume.

Other regions had strong growth in application volume, with applications to programs in Asia-Pacific up, Canada up 7.7%, and Europe up 3.2%.

“Demand for graduate management education is stable year over year,” Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC’s chief executive, said in a news release. “However, there are significant regional variations. Non-U.S. programs continue to thrive, highlighting the continued emergence of enhanced educational and professional opportunities outside the United States.”

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