Business Schools See Broadest Increase in Applications Since the Recession

Meanwhile, the executive MBA may be dying.

The Baker Library of the Harvard Business School, on Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Traditional business school programs are experiencing the strongest level of interest from U.S. applicants since 2009, a new report shows. Fifty-nine percent of U.S. business schools said applications to full-time, two year MBA programs from Americans increased over last year, as reported in a survey of hundreds of programs conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the body that administers the main business school entrance exam.

Domestic candidates still make up only 45 percent of the total applicant pool for U.S. B-schools. The majority of MBA programs globally said that applications were up year-over-year and were higher than a decade ago. In a year in which fewer people applied to law school than at any point in the last three decades, B-Schools seem to be an increasingly popular destination for career-minded professionals seeking a graduate education.


"There is a cyclical trend in U.S. application volumes that mirrors the economy," said Gregg Shoenfeld, director of management education research at GMAC. "For example, application volumes grew tremendously until the recession, and then we saw a drop." Shoenfeld said that domestic applications to U.S. business schools plummeted in the years following the financial crisis. 

In news that may disappoint mid-career professionals, employers are increasingly resistant to sending managers back to school for an executive MBA, a condensed version of the traditional business master’s program that doesn't require two years on campus. In 2015, 41 percent of B-Schools said, interest in their EMBA programs fell from the previous year. Those programs tend to cover lodging and meals in a setting that closely resembles a corporate retreat, and they can be costly: At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Columbia Business School, and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, the EMBA costs more than $180,000. Schools surveyed by GMAC said fewer applicants were counting on tuition assistance from their employer, compared to 2014. 

Meanwhile, employers are more likely to fund online MBAs for their workers than they were last year, according to GMAC. This may signal a broader shift in companies’ views of the most efficient way to hone the business acumen of employees. Pricey EMBAs, long the go-to degree for companies looking to make employees smarter, appear to be losing ground to online offerings that tend to be cheaper. The other advantage of online MBAs is that they probably don’t make you leave your desk. 

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