In 2021, the volume of applications for graduate business school programmes grew 0.4% from the year before, sustaining the elevated demand since the onset of the global pandemic in 2020 when business schools worldwide saw unusually high volume of applications due to economic uncertainty. This is a key finding from the 2021 Application Trends Survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the global association of leading graduate B-schools.
“Candidates looked for alternative career options during the Covid-19-induced recession and B-schools introduced more flexible admissions policies, resulting in soaring application volumes last year,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “The question was whether this was a fleeting event caused by the pandemic or the start of a new uptick in applications. In this context, the 2021 application cycle indicates that the surging demand for graduate business education is not a passing fad but has staying power beyond 2020.”
Majority of MBA programmes witnessed surge in applications from India: With the ease in application processed and lockdown restrictions, majority of MBA programmes reported an exponential rise in the volume of applications from India. Friendly visa policies, two-year work visa, uplifting of lockdown restrictions as well as changed perception of the US under Joe Biden are cited as key reasons behind the surge.
International candidates rebound in top-ranked B-schools: After years of unwelcoming immigration policies in parts of the world and months of global travel restrictions due to Covid-19, pent-up demand from international students for graduate B-schools was evident in this year’s data.
“B-school learning is experiential and relies heavily on interactions, discussions, and cohort and alumni networks. This is impossible without a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds,” said Katy Montgomery, associate dean of Degree Programmes at INSEAD and a GMAC board member. “As student mobility gradually returns, the diversity it brings to a classroom will only benefit and enrich campus life.”
More MBA programmes report growth from female applicants: Full-time MBA programmes continued gaining traction in 2021. Half of full-time one-year (52%) and two-year (56%) MBA programmes reported an increase in applications in 2021. On the contrary, professional MBA programmes such as part-time MBA, executive MBA and online MBA—geared towards the needs of working professionals—saw their share in those reporting application growth at the lowest level since 2017.
This year’s application data also indicates that, globally, women candidates emerging from the shadow of the pandemic refocused on their career ambitions, with three in five (60%) full-time two-year MBA programmes reporting an increase in applications from female candidates compared to two in five (43%) programmes reporting growth from male candidates. In comparison, a much smaller share of online MBA programmes (42%) reported growth in applications from female candidates, indicating women’s preference to return to in-person, full-time learning.