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Global Demand for Graduate Management Education: New GMAC Survey Research Applications for graduate_3
attached file : Dec-Newsletter-GMAC-Research-Rahul-CHOUDAHA_3.docx

Global Demand for Graduate Management Education: New GMAC Survey Research



Applications for graduate management education (GME) increased by 2.4 percent based on the weighted absolute change analysis of 731 programs worldwide that responded to the 2019 and 2020 Application Trends Survey. This is a reversal from a decline of 3.1 percent in the applications last year.

This reversal of trends is in line with a well-established dynamic in which the demand for b-schools increases during economic downturns. The Guardian notes, “Demand for MBA courses tends to be countercyclical….When recession looms, as is now the case, the opportunity cost of taking a career break to update skills and build a professional network at business school reduces greatly.” 

However, the 2020 application season was unlike any other, resulting in a reconfiguration of the enrollment funnel. The pandemic-induced economic downturn, coupled with the disruption of travel and on-campus classes, necessitated that business schools and candidates make choices during times of continuing uncertainty.



Many b-schools responded to the uncertainty by adopting flexible admissions approaches, including extended deadlines and deferral policies. As a result, the number of applications increased. Schools also hedged enrollment risks by increasing acceptance rates. However, translating the increase in applications into actual enrollments was a challenge for many schools.

For candidates, GME offers a pathway to emerge from the economic downturn with better career prospects. While more candidates applied to b-schools; however, deferral rates also went up due to concerns about online learning, travel, and visas. For example, a previous GMAC poll of prospective students indicated that international candidates were more likely than domestic candidates to ask for deferrals rather than start a program online.

Overall, 2 out of 3 (67%) programs reported an increase in 2020 applications compared to 2 out of 5 (41%) in 2019. Median acceptance rates were slightly higher (70%) than 65% in 2019. Overall, median deferral rates increased from 2 percent to 6 percent in 2020. As a result, median yield rates for all programs reduced from 62 percent to 60 percent. In sum, the pandemic-induced uncertainty impacted the decisions of b-schools and reconfigured the enrollment funnel.

Among the programs that responded to the 2020 and 2019 surveys (Absolute year-on-year change), the total number of applications shrunk for the Asia Pacific region (-7.1%) as compared to an increase for Canada (13%), Europe (24%), and the US (21%). Likewise, based on the responses of the programs participating in the 2020 survey (relative change analysis), a smaller proportion of programs in the Asia Pacific (57%) reported growth in applications as compared to Canada (79%), Europe (72%) and the US (67%). This somewhat divergent growth pattern of graduate management programs in the Asia Pacific reflects the diversity and scale of Asia Pacific. The variations in the timing of applications with the pandemic along with the differences in candidate profiles (more domestic candidates), could have also contributed to the divergent impact.

Some of the strategies adopted by business schools in response to the pandemic may also have influenced the enrollment outcomes. For example, respondents from graduate management programs in the Asia Pacific (58%) were more likely to report increased budgets for online initiatives than the US respondents (25%). Likewise, programs in the Asia Pacific (39%) were also more likely to report that they delayed the program start date as compared to Canada (18%) and the US (6%).



In sum, one of the defining characteristics of the 2020 application season is the reconfiguration of the enrollment funnel as b-schools and candidates hedged their risks and managed uncertainties. Looking ahead, the results of the US presidential election would interact with the pandemic uncertainties to reshape global student mobility and reconfigure the enrollment funnel. The data shared in the report illustrates how the global landscape of graduate management education continues to evolve and confirms the importance of continuous monitoring and understanding of trends to shape enrollment strategies.

About the Survey

The 2020 Application Trends Survey data was collected between July 30 and September 14, 2020, and garnered responses from 1,085 programs at 325 business schools worldwide. The 2020 report, set in the context of COVID-19, benchmarks application trends by regions and programs and offers insights into the global demand for graduate management education. The annual survey of business school admissions offices worldwide provides timely insights into understanding candidate pipeline and behavior. This survey benefits admissions, recruitment, and marketing professionals by informing their future strategies and practices. It covers the following dimensions:


Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC in the Washington DC area. He is an evangelist and analyst of graduate management education, focusing on mobility trends, student choices, and enrolment strategies. Choudaha has presented more than 150 sessions at professional conferences and has been quoted over 300 times in global publications. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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