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April 12, 2016

Thoughts on the MBA Application Season 2015-2016 and Beyond

With the results from MIT Sloan for Round 2 now in, I wanted to give my quick take on this past season.  For me personally, I worked with a reduced number of clients from the previous year because I was focusing on my part-time degree studies at INSEAD, so I had a somewhat lower headcount but I had a high number of clients getting into multiple programs. I worked with fewer HBS admits (5) than my all-time high last year (9), but have had more clients admitted to Wharton (10, including 1 for Lauder) than ever before. Each year is different because my clients are different and the results will be different. My client results can be found here.

As has been reported by Poets&Quants, GMAT scores keep going up at top schools and this is certainly impacting who is getting invited and ultimately admitted. While I continue to have clients who get admitted despite their GMAT (or GRE) score, they are certainly in the minority. I see both from my current clients and those who are now contacting me for reapplication that high test scores matter, so if you are planning on making application in this coming or subsequent admissions cycles, getting to at least the average test score for those who are admitted, is advisable. Still scores outside of the bottom of the 80% range for admits don’t make it impossible, just very challenging.  Someone is in that lower 10%,  which certainly include those in under-represented groups, but will also include some exceptional candidates who just did not do well on GMAT or GRE.

Regarding trends in MBA goals, entrepreneurship and tech remain hot, while finance (especially investment bank) remains cold amongst those seeking a career change.  Amongst my own clients I had both career changers and career enhancers who did quite well, which is the same in past years.  My expectation is that FINTECH will be extremely hot this coming cycle as it is now one of the biggest disruptors out there with real possibility to drastically change financial services. Applicants with Fintech backgrounds will surely be in high demand at MBA programs. Those thinking of a Fintech career who have no experience in this area should make attempts now to become educated so that they can talk the talk in their essays and interviews.

Given the collapse in the price of oil, the number of oil and gas professionals seeking an MBA and EMBA has surely increased. I saw that with my own client base. I fully anticipate further increases as the recovery in this industry is likely to be drawn out.  Applicants in this sector will see increased competition from their peers for admission.

It is generally said that MBA programs (and graduate education in general) are counter-cyclical to the rest of the economy: They grow when the economy retracts. Low rates of growth worldwide would suggest that more applicants will be applying in the coming season, thus increasing competition for admission.  I would not be surprised to see the admissions rates at Stanford, HBS, Wharton and other programs that showed reduced acceptance rates in recent years continue to experience increased numbers of applicants and reduced rates of admission in the coming cycle.

One major issue for international applicants who view an MBA as a ticket to work opportunities in the US is the continued limits on the number of  H1B visas, which has been a long-term issue but is now further complicated by the possibility of anti-immigrant candidate getting the Republican nomination and subsequently being elected President.  A Trump victory, a truly awful prospect in my opinion, could have a potentially devastating impact on visa issuance including student visas given his stated position.  Given the current political situation in the US,  it is hard to see comprehensive immigration reform including H1B visa expansion occurring anytime soon.  At best, I hope for the status quo in terms of US student visa and H1B visa issuance.

While I know much of what I am writing here is rather gloomy, the employment results for new MBAs was strong in 2015 according to Poets&Quants. Hopefully, that trend will continue in the coming years.

Long-term, as MBA programs worldwide build their reputation and brand, it will interesting to see whether the number of international applicants to top US schools starts to decline.  At this point, I don’t think we can assume that will happen any time soon. International MBA brands and the networks that have built up around them are not easily replaced by newer entrants.

I think it is safe to say that change will occur much faster as a result of the expansion of offerings (online, specialized degree programs, executive degree, and certificate programs) at top business schools. In this respect consider the offerings at MIT Sloan, which offers an MBA, LGO (MBA and engineering degree), a full-time mid career MBA (Sloan Fellows), an EMBA, a Master of Management Studies for those who already have an MBA or the equivalent, specialized Masters (Finance, Business Analytics, System Design & Management, PhD, executive education, and online courses.  MIT is not alone and I mention them because they are just a good example. The two-year early to mid-career traditional MBA is but one offering and room for expansion exists elsewhere rather than in such programs.  For schools like MIT,  unless they increase MBA class size and greatly increase the rate of admissions acceptance, so mething that runs contrary to maintaining their brand position as highly selective institutions, the must grow outside of the MBA program, which is what schools are and will continue doing.  In this respect, I think we will continue to see the MBA as a premium offering that enables Busines Schools to offer additional branded programs that will be highly attractive to diverse individuals with different learning needs.  Given both the increased variation, change, and length in people’s careers such offerings will help to meet the learning needs of professionals at all stages of their career development, which I consider a good thing.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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