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What is on the mind of prospective MBA students around the world? Why are they applying to business school? What factors influence their school selection? How do they really feel about the application components, such as standardized tests and video essays?
The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) set out to find the answers to these questions – and many more – as part of the 2016 MBA Applicant Survey released on June 15, 2016.
The annual survey, which was launched in 2009, covers each stage of the admissions process, ranging from tools applicants first use to research programs, as well as the reasons they select programs, to career and salary expectations.
“The survey pretty much sums up all factors I considered when deciding on the MBA program of my choice.” –2016 AIGAC Survey Applicant
Wide range of survey participants, representing 83 countries
More than 3,500 applicants completed this year’s survey, which was fielded between February 15 and May 2, 2016, in partnership with Constituent Research. With a particular interest in the most immediate incoming class, AIGAC segmented the findings based on the 1,114 respondents who intend to enroll by January 2017. Of this population, the majority are male (65%) and 44% live in the U.S. Nearly 20% already hold a master’s degree.
High expectations with an eye on the bank account
Among the many survey findings, one main takeaway is that MBA applicants continue to be optimistic about their post-MBA employment and salary prospects, while also being mindful of costs and showing increasing interest in shorter full-time programs.
Nearly half of applicants (41%) who intend to apply by January 2017 expect a salary increase of more than 50% within 6 months after their graduation. The majority of applicants expressed interest in the traditional post-MBA career paths of Consulting, Finance/Accounting, and Technology.
Other key insights
The 2016 MBA Applicant Survey revealed the following additional key insights from respondents who intend to enroll by January 2017:
- Declining interest in two-year, full-time MBA programs, and a willingness to consider options perceived as more cost-effective
- Reputation and impact on career are the most important factors in school selection
- Reliance on multiple sources of support for the application process; friends (44%) admissions consultants (39%), and family members (30%) topped the list of resources used
- Standardized tests and essays are the most challenging application components
Respondents show increasing openness to programs other than traditional two-year MBAs
Interest in full-time, two-year MBA programs decreased from 89% in 2015 to 69% in 2016. Meanwhile, interest in full-time, less than two-year programs increased from 33% in 2015 to 40% in 2016. Slightly more than a quarter of applicants (26%) considered part-time MBA or executive MBA programs in 2016.
Affordability is a significant factor in school selection but reputation matters most
Cost appears to loom larger in applicants’ minds than it did in the first AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey in 2009. Nearly a quarter (21%) of 2016 MBA applicants indicated that they modified their list of target schools during the application process based on cost and access to financial aid, and 41% of 2016 respondents indicated that their initial choice of schools was partly influenced by affordability. By comparison, financial aid and program costs were ranked the least important factors in 2009.
Still, reputation (ranking) of the MBA program (74%), followed by impact on career (48%), city/geographic location (46%), and school culture (38%) are the most influential factors in specific school selection, although 30% of the respondents considered net cost (program cost/availability of scholarships) when evaluating specific schools.
Role of admissions consultants in expanding school choices
More than a third of applicants (32%) indicated that their admission consultant encouraged them to earn a higher GMAT score before applying. Meanwhile, 29% of respondents said their admissions consultant encouraged them to apply to a school that they had not previously considered, and 27% of applicants said their consultant encouraged them to apply to more schools than they had originally planned.
Standardized tests and essays are still considered harder than video essays and group exercises
The majority of respondents (61%) named standardized tests as the most challenging application component, followed by written essays (46%), and interviews (20%). Only 19% of applicants indicated that recorded video responses and group exercises were especially challenging. Nearly half of applicants (49%) claimed that the video essay represented them “well” or “extremely well,” although survey comments revealed concerns by some applicants regarding technical difficulties in remote overseas locations.
Survey respondents continued to overwhelmingly favor the GMAT vs. GRE
The GMAT remains the test of choice, with 89% of applicants reporting that they submitted a GMAT score and only 7% of applicants noting that they submitted a GRE score in 2016. Survey participants indicated that they took the GRE primarily because they were applying to multiple types of graduate programs or because they had already taken the GRE before applying to business school. Nearly a quarter of respondents, however, said it was because they had struggled with the GMAT.
Ten schools ranked highest in getting to know applicants well
Applicants acknowledged the schools that made an effort to get to know them well. They include, in order:
1. Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College
2. IE Business School
3. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
4. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
5. Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University
6. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
7. IESE Business School, The University of Navarra
8. Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
9. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
10. Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
10. McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin
Providing a Voice to Applicant Needs and Aspirations
The survey findings provide admissions officers with the opportunity to hear from applicants who may not otherwise share their feedback about the admissions process directly with the schools. Moreover, the survey data add to the collective insight on an industry-wide level so schools can learn how applicants to other schools are responding.
We are pleased that past survey findings have had a tangible impact and helped to enhance the application process for prospective students and schools alike. For example, the 2013 edition of the survey highlighted the pressure that many applicants face from their recommenders, encouraging them to write their own recommendations. The analysis and ensuing discussion was a large reason why many prominent business schools started to move toward more standardized recommendations.
In order to continue to build a strong pipeline of the best applicants, we encourage schools to consider the following recommendations based on this year’s findings.
- Given the increasing level of cost-consciousness among MBA applicants, it would be beneficial if all graduate business schools fully disclosed the net cost of MBA program attendance as well as the amount of financial aid available to students and the timing when it will be dispensed. Leveling the playing field in terms of the disclosure of such information would be very helpful in facilitating the school selection process among MBA applicants.
- As graduate business schools continue to experiment with and incorporate new technology into the MBA application process, such as video essays, applicants can provide valuable suggestions for improving and fine-tuning the use of such technology through the constructive feedback that they provide in AIGAC’s MBA Applicant Survey (e.g. Some survey respondents commented that they felt that there should have been more preparation and response time for the video essays).
- Many international MBA applicants apply to American graduate business schools with the dream of working in the United States following graduation. It can be frustrating and disappointing when they aren’t able to secure the job (and place) of their dreams because of visa limitations. Additional communication to manage expectations regarding the likelihood of post-graduation employment in the United States would be beneficial for all concerned. Furthermore, many international students run into additional challenges following an internship when their hiring manager wishes to hire – and retain them – for a period longer than they are eligible to work in the United States under current regulations. Again, clearer communications on the front-end (i.e., during the application process) will establish a better experience throughout their educational journey.
Founded in 2006, the non-profit Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) exists to define ethical standards for graduate admissions consultants, contribute to their professional development, educate the public about the admissions consulting industry, and strengthen relationships with related service providers (e.g., test prep) and business schools. AIGAC is the standard bearer for best practices and excellence in advising graduate school applicants around the world.
AIGAC is committed to helping applicants educate themselves about their options and optimize their candidacy as they make high-stakes decisions and investments in their higher education. Members of AIGAC include former admissions officers from top universities, graduates of leading programs, widely-read authors, and subject-matter experts who are frequently quoted in the international media including the Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, Forbes, Poets & Quants, and The Wall Street Journal.
By Anna Ivey
What’s the ideal LSAT timeline? Your mileage may vary, and your LSAT instructor will be able to give you advice customized to your individual situation. But in a perfect world, here’s how I like to work backwards from the end goal:
Plan to submit your applications in early November (or even sooner, but early November is plenty early). In order to maximize the time you have on your applications, and to let your brain focus on — and master — one thing at a time, that November submission date means I like to see people take the LSAT the February before that.
By Scott Shrum
Just as the quality of a stage production or musical performance depends on all of the work that went into months and months of rehearsal before the performance, how successful you are in your business school applications depends a great deal on all of the work you do before you ever start drafting an essay. Remember that your application is a mere snapshot of who you are (and how well you can present yourself) at one point in time. How well that message will be received will partly depend on whether you’re targeting the right schools, and how well MBA admissions officers at those schools see a good fit between you and their institution. And this comes down to knowing how to select the right MBA program for you.
By Adam Markus, Graduate Admissions Guru
As MBA results roll in with all their joy, pain, and annoyance have more or less emerged, some people will find themselves admitted, others outright rejected, and others in that netherworld known as waitlist. For some, the wait will actually end relatively quickly, but for others, the wait might very well continue, well, for months and months. For some, the waitlist will ultimately convert into a ding.
While I have no numbers yet, my expectation is that admissions acceptances to top programs like Booth, HBS, MIT and Wharton will have become lower for fall 2014 entry (Class of 2016) because of making the essay burden lower (HBS, MIT, Wharton), proactive use of waitlisting to decrease an acceptance rate that is too high given its ranking (Booth) and increase yield (Booth and Wharton, Haas and others likely), and overall market effects…
By Betsy Massar, Master Admissions
“When should I apply?”That’s one of the first things students ask when planning their MBA application process. The highly personal answer depends on both strategic and tactical considerations.
The Decision is Part of Your Career Strategy
The “when” question is strategic because an MBA application requires asking yourself big questions about your career and where you want to go next. Often these decisions depend on the experience you already have…Remember, the admissions committee is trying to determine your value added to your future stakeholders: classmates, faculty, and alumni.
By Betsy Massar, Master Admissions
AIGAC is a truly international organization; not only are our members from places like Spain, Brazil, Russia and China, our clients are from even more exotic places. I recently worked with someone from Inner Mongolia! For those who have not had too much cross-border experience, many MBA programs allow for, if not encourage or require, study abroad. Students who leave, as well as those who host, are amazed at how much they learn.
International exchange programs were brought home to me at a Forté Foundation where I met Katie Cannon, a London Business School student currently on exchange at UCLA Anderson. Katie’s infectious enthusiasm for LBS and international study—and her passion for the arts and her interest in media management— make a semester in LA perfect for her. There’s no question that the Anderson students will be learning from Katie as much as she will be learning from them.
Katie is hardly the only one studying abroad during business school. More than half of the top MBA programs offer full-term international exchange programs. London Business School is a good example. It’s a particularly international school; about 35% of its students spend a semester in a foreign country, and a typical class may have people from over 60 different countries. To facilitate exchange, LBS partners with over 30 schools worldwide, and students at those schools can also study in London.
UCLA Anderson, located in southern California, is an ideal exchange choice for students like Katie who want to pursue careers in film, television, or talent management—or even financial services and venture capital. It’s also a great home-base business school for students who want to study abroad— 20% participate in an international exchange. UCLA—along with Cornell Johnson, Duke Fuqua, NYU Stern, Chicago Booth, and Michigan Ross—is a member of the Partnership in International Management network , an international consortium of business schools, and it also has exchange agreements with schools outside that network.
UC Berkeley Haas offers exchange programs established with several leading b-schools, “if,” says the website, “you can bear to be away from Berkeley.” (Click on the Haas link for useful descriptions of each of the exchange schools.) In addition to international offerings, Haas also has an exchange with Columbia Business School, giving students the chance to spend a semester in New York City.
Most other top schools require some form of international experience during their MBA years. For example, Yale School of Management mandates that students take a short-term trip abroad in the second semester of the first year. Professors lead the trips in countries they specialize in, from Brazil to Estonia to Israel to Japan. Yale also offers a more traditional fall term international exchange for second year students. Stanford GSB also mandates a “Global Experience Requirement” which can be fulfilled by study trips or a summer immersion program.
By Candy Lee LaBalle, mbaSpain
Six Tips from the Trenches
MBA admissions consultants help applicants in everything from choosing schools to essay brainstorming to resume editing. But, when dealing with non-US applicants, we also have to do a little cultural translating. At mbaSpain, I face this reality every day, and, after comparing notes with several AIGAC colleagues, I’ve identified six application areas where cultural awareness is essential.
1. Sell Yourself
Call it branding, positioning, or tooting your own horn, what is second nature to US applicants is often taboo to non-Americans.
“With Middle Easterners, particularly women, I spend a lot of time encouraging them to talk openly about themselves, their accomplishments and initiatives, and their dreams,” notes Tanis Kmetyk, who handles EMEA applicants for Accepted.com. With Asian applicants, she says, “Standing out is not considered a ‘plus’… so helping them to, well, stand out, is important.”
In addition, many foreign applicants believe an MBA application means all business. Rocio didn’t think the fact that she co-founded one of Spain’s most important youth sporting events to be relevant. “But I was in university, wouldn’t the schools rather hear about my banking experience?”
2. Embrace your Failures
“Even physical hurdles that people face (like handicaps) are seen as a weakness in many countries,” says Tanis. We have to push them to realize that the value of that failure, what they learned can actually be a strength for their application.
Some non-US applicants try to avoid sharing failures by thinly veiling achievements. Jaime was determined to tell LBS that his failure to graduate number one in his class (instead of number two) was due to his demanding role as captain of the rugby team! It took a bit of coaxing to help him realize that his initial struggle with leadership was actually a more powerful story.
3. Answer the Question
Getting non-US applicants to clearly tell a story is another struggle. Vince Ricci who runs VincePrep.com in Japan notes, “Japanese storytelling emphasizes context – a long wind-up before the final punchline.” With this approach, they’ll run out of words before they get to the point.
Spanish applicants love to share mucho ruido, pocas nueces (a lot of noise, few nuts). Though it is good advice for all MBA hopefuls to stay focused and answer the question, non-US applicants benefit immensely from the application of STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
4. Commit to the Tests
Standardized tests provide their own cultural challenges. Victoria Pralitch of MBA Consult in Russia says “My applicants see GMAT as just a math test, and our schools in Russia give a great math training, so no need to overstrain. As a result, the percentage of those who pass successfully the first time is not that high.”
“German applicants are typically exasperated about the GMAT requirement,” notes Dr. Marlena Corcoran of Athena Mentor. “They are convinced they are superior candidates, and their less-than-stellar scores on a standardized exam must mean the exam is unfair.”
Other applicants choose to ignore their English test until it is too late. “I have a 720 on GMAT and use English everyday,” Pedro, a very promising candidate told me last November. “I don’t have to prepare TOEFL.” He got a 104 and had to put off his Harvard application for a year.
5. Recognize Extracurriculars
“Most Western Europe governments take care of their people from ‘cradle to grave,’ so community activity here is not at all the same as it is in North America,” notes Tanis.
Maybe our non-US applicants haven’t done typical extracurricular activity, but most likely they’ve played team sports, served on an events committee at work, helped a family member open a business, or participated in some activity that allowed them to take initiative, have impact and show leadership.
Ricardo was convinced he had no extracurricular activity to share. Then I found out that when he was in university, his family went bankrupt. He used his computer skills to make 20,000 euros in an online venture which helped his father get his business back. Talk about impact!
6. Go Beyond Rankings
“I have to educate my non-US applicants about the diversity of schools – many are just focused on the top 10 and it’s frustrating, whether it’s not realistic for them or just there’s a better fit,” says Yael Redelman-Sidi of Admit1MBA.com based in New York.
While a top-ten obsession is typical among most MBA applicants, non-US applicants also face the cultural pressure of attending a brand-name school. Everyone in Spain, China and Brazil knows Harvard, not so many know Babson or Kelley or Tulane. It is our job to mediate their expectations (not all of them can go to Harvard) and open their eyes to other schools that could be a better fit.
The Wall St Journal had a great special section this week on graduate business education. As an admissions consultant for the last fifteen years, I read the articles with memories of similar sections and articles from the past floating through my head. And I see major changes reflected here.
First the article, “Looking for an Edge,” shines a spotlight on the increasing role of admission consultants in the application process. According to the article, 20% of applicants in a GMAC survey said they used admissions consultants. Clearly the applicant interviewed for the WSJ article found beneficial her experience with AIGAC member, Clear Admit. Her comments on her experience closely mirrored the arguments I made in an earlier post, “Why use an admissions consultant?”
The article also reveals increasing acceptance of admissions consultants by admissions directors. According to “Looking for an Edge,” “Deirdre Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, says meeting with admissions consultants is useful to ‘get some field intelligence’ about how prospective students view the school and its admissions process.”
“Ticket to an M.B.A.” shows that Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of M.B.A. admissions at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, has moved from definite opposition to cautious neutrality:
“Applicants approach the process saying, ‘What are the areas over which I have control?’ They see part of that as getting coaching or guidance from someone who may have seen more candidates.
“Does it help? Does it hurt? It’s candidate by candidate. What I would always ask is, ‘How can someone who doesn’t know you help you be a more authentic version of yourself?’ Some people probably can, if they’re asking the right questions.”
While these admissions directors haven’t become evangelists or advocates for consultants, their comments reveal a marked change in their public posture.They have moved to acceptance, perhaps even grudging respect.
These trends reflect a lot of AIGAC’s hard work over the last five years. AIGAC has set industry standards for professionalism and ethical consulting. It has increased and improved communications with the schools especially at our annual conferences, where members have visited Chicago, Kellogg, Columbia, NYU, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Haas.
Finally, the article also has enormous implications for AIGAC, its members, and non-member consultants. The Wall St. Journal overwhelmingly turned to AIGAC members when it wanted information on MBA admissions consulting. Almost every consultant mentioned or interviewed in the WSJ article, “Looking for an Edge,” is a member of AIGAC. In fact the only link in the article is to AIGAC: “To find a consultant, one place to start is AIGAC.org, the website of the admissions consultants’ trade group.”
If The Wall St. Journal is saying that one place to find an admissions consultant is AIGAC.org and you are an admissions consultant, don’t you want to be found here?
If you are a member, you know your AIGAC investment is paying dividends — big time. If you are not yet a member, but you share AIGAC’s values, believe in its vision, and meet its membership requirements, now is a great time to join.
By Betsy Massar of Master Admissions
As we come up to the business school application deadlines, thousands of aspiring MBA students are asking their bosses, former bosses, senior colleagues, and even clients for recommendations to business school. Some might argue that it’s already too late to hit up a busy executive for a b-school recommendation, but if you plan and execute right, the amount of time remaining should be reasonable.
You can find many opinions about how to strategize the recommendations all over the web. I only have three words to say about it: Don’t overthink it. Admissions officers have come right out on their websites and told students what they are looking for in a recommendation, and I encourage you to take them at their word.
A classic article on this subject can be found on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website. Kirsten Moss, the GSB’s former Director of MBA admissions, offered clear advice for all applicants, not just Stanford. She purports that the recommendation is “about about bringing this person alive. How, if they left tomorrow, would [the] organization have been touched in a unique way. “
Note too, that admission committee members reading your letters of recommendation don’t want everything to be stellar. If all the recommenders say that the applicant is wonderful for the same reasons, or if the student looks like a demi-god, “it loses its authenticity.” says Stanford’s Moss.
Derrick Bolton, Dean of Admissions at Stanford’s MBA program also guides students with ideas to make the letters specific:
You might review the recommendation form and jot down relevant anecdotes in which you demonstrated the competencies in question. Specific stories will help make you come alive in the process, and your recommender will appreciate the information.
And from Harvard Business School…
Dee Leopold, the very experienced and candid Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, advises that recommenders answer the questions posed, and be specific (good advice for applicants as well as recommenders!). Furthermore, “Many recommendations are well-written and enthusiastic in their praise but essentially full of adjectives and short on actual examples of how your wonderful qualities play out in real life,” she explains. “What we are hoping for are brief recounts of specific situations and how you performed.” Her blog is not indexed, so I recommend searching for her posts of August 24, 2009 and June 17, 2008.
The always articulate Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, allays fears that your recommenders must write perfect prose. “We won’t be evaluating your recommenders’ writing skills. We will be looking for content that helps us understand who you are as a professional and … the impact you had within your organization.” She also offers the following four specific tips
1. Choose substance over title (in other words, don’t ask your CEO)
2. Go with professional relationships
3. Make it easy for your recommender (For example, remind them of examples, in context)
4. Provide ample lead time
More Excellent Resources Available
Several students and former students have chimed in on the recommendations process. One of my favorite applicant blogs, Palo Alto For Awhile, thoughtfully offered a very specific step-by-step guideline for the recommendation process.
Another generous soul is Jeremy Wilson, who is on the Northwestern Kellogg admissions committee and currently a JD-MBA student there. He offers some answers on how to ask someone to write a recommendation who is very, very busy. Good question! His response is thoughtful, and action-oriented. I especially like his #3, “Highlight Why You Picked Them.”
Many of my AIGAC colleagues have some great advice on recommendations, and a read-through of their websites can be worth your while.
Indeed, organizing and managing the recommendation process can be a challenge, especially if you are applying to a number of different schools. But it’s a lot like managing a project at work: you’ve got to get buy-in and meet the deadlines.
I know you’ve got it in you.
There are endless and frequent discussions on forums and message boards questioning the value of admissions consulting. One of the more common arguments against using a consultant runs something like this:
“Everyone I know that’s been accepted and is attending top schools did so without …an admissions consultant…. Is [using a consultant] crucial to top-school acceptance? Absolutely not.”
I’m sure if you took a poll of AIGAC members, the overwhelming majority would have attended grad school without the aid of a consultant. Many, including me, would not have taken a test prep course before applying to graduate school. However, over the last thirty years test preparation went from being an act of desperation, to a competitive edge, to a mainstay of the application process. Today, to maximize chances of a top score and acceptance at the best possible school, virtually all applicants take a test prep course.
The same phenomenon is occurring to admissions consulting, but educational advising is currently at the “competitive edge” stage. At this point, using a consultant is not crucial for some. It is extremely helpful for all.
The question is not whether one can get accepted to business, law, or medical school without a consultant. Many are accepted without professional advising. The question is: Are the advantages of using a consultant worth the cost?
First let’s discuss the ways in which a consultant can help you. We bring:
- Experience that you lack.
- Objectivity to a subject that is difficult to be objective about: You
- Editing skills. Professional writers have editors because their writing benefits from a knowledgeable, critical eye. The same is true for the writing of non-professionals.
How do these benefits justify the cost and provide a critical competitive edge?
Using an admissions consultant can:
- Enable your acceptance to a “better” school. “Better” implies more professional opportunity, increased earnings, and an educational experience more to your liking. Just looking at dollars and cents, “better” represents potentially tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket during your career.
- Help you snag a fellowship or scholarship. Savings: tens of thousands of dollars.
- Save you the cost of reapplication. Applying to medical, law, business school or any other graduate program including application fees and travel expenses can cost several thousand dollars. When you apply one time, you save.
- Reduce the time, stress, and frustration you (and those close to you) experience during the admissions process. We can guide you so you don’t go down tangents and useless paths or flounder for weeks as you struggle to learn what we know.
So can you gain acceptance to a graduate school without using an admissions consultant? Certainly. Should you try? Only if you don’t value the experience, objectivity, and skill that can provide you with returns many times the cost.