MBA Admissions Trends 1996-2010

F1GMAT: The MBA Exchange is a veteran in the MBA admissions industry, providing expert guidance to thousands of applicants since 1996. What are some of the MBA Admissions trends that you have seen over the past 14 years?

The MBA Exchange: Amidst a nearly constant state of change, there are seven major trends in MBA admissions that The MBA Exchange has observed over the past decade and a half.

Rise of Social Media and MBA Admissions1. The beginning – and the end -- of dialogue between school and applicant
The phenomenon of social media has prompted business schools to become more visible and even interactive in communicating with applicants over this time period. Admissions directors like Harvard’s Dee Leopold have even launched their own blogs to ensure clarity in explaining their policies, preferences and priorities. Always diplomatic, of course, but now official.

At the same time as the schools started using the Internet as a platform for building their brands, individual feedback from admissions office for rejected applicants about their applications or candidacies has gone from limited to non-existent – even for those who made it to the waitlist. This void adds to the frustration of applicants who receive only a short email that informs them that they didn’t make the cut.  Their incentive to reapply is reduced as these individuals are never told what they lacked or did wrong. Admissions consulting firms have stepped in to provide objective “ding analyses” for those who were turned away at campus gate.

2. The validation and expansion of top admissions consultants as a resource
Admissions ConsultantsAs top business schools began to realize that about 25% of their admits engage the services of professional consultants, the admissions directors could no longer pretend such firms didn’t exist.  And as the credentials and credibility of such firms – staffed by top grads and former admissions officers from those very schools – grew stronger, the MBA programs began to take a more enlightened view.  

The birth of a respected and selected professional group – the Association of Independent Graduate Admissions Professionals – gave its members the visibility to engage top schools in a meaningful, face-to-face dialogue.  And starting with Chicago Booth and Kellogg, then NYU and Columbia, and most recently Harvard and MIT, admissions directors were inviting top consulting firms including The MBA Exchange to visit campus, meet the staff and discover mutual interests. Thanks to exhaustive blogging and Tweeting, the presence of top admissions consulting firms continues to grow.

3. The growing avalanche of qualified applicants from India to top US business schools

Indian MBA CandidateInternational students have always been a valuable component of the MBA classes at top US schools. However, over this 14-year period, the volume, qualifications and determination of applicants from India have nearly overwhelmed the admissions offices.  Prompted by their nation’s relatively burgeoning economy and untapped growth potential, more and more Indian professionals see a top US MBA degree as their ticket to the corner office.  Interestingly, these applicants have already experienced the fierce competition for admission to universities – such as the prestigious IITs – where admissions selectivity is far beyond anything found at even Harvard and Stanford.  High GMATs are almost a given with this segment as the challenge has become how to differentiate one’s self from the masses.  The trend led The MBA Exchange to expand our admissions consulting team to include 9 MBAs and former admissions professionals with Indian heritage – including one based in Mumbai.

4. The “youth movement” and related emergence of EMBA and Part-Time options
EMBA Part-Time MBAThe launch of Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program targeting college juniors was a watershed.  While difficult to quantify and confirm, anecdotal evidence is that the two most selective b-schools, HBS and Stanford, have shifted their focus to younger applicants than in previous years.  This reality – along with an ailing economy – has encouraged applicants age 30+ to pursue to executive and part-time MBA programs that allow them to remain fully employed while attending school.  The launch of MIT Sloan’s first EMBA program this past year adds a new member to club previously dominated by Wharton, Columbia, Chicago and Kellogg.  With several of our own consultants having earned full-time MBAs in their mid-30s to early 40s, The MBA Exchange has welcome older applicants and added specialists in EMBA admissions consulting.

5. The economic impact on the ROI for an MBA education
ROI MBAAs fresh MBA graduates in recent years experienced fewer opportunities for summer internships and post-graduation jobs, the value proposition for attending a second-tier MBA program came under fire.  The lifetime benefits of an MBA degree from a top-10 school (especially the reigning champions Harvard, Stanford and Wharton) remain strong despite the still-choppy economic waters.  However, the case for matriculating at a school outside the top 20 softened as unemployment spread and lingered.  The market’s comfort in applying only to top-tier schools has prompted continuing growth in our client roster.

6. Expanded and elevated competition among GMAT tutors
GMAT Tutor CompetitionKaplan and Princeton Review used to rule the marketplace as the “Coke” and “Pepsi” of GMAT tutoring.  Live classes held during the evening or on weekends in dank, dark conference rooms was the way GMAT prep was done.  The only other option was the “mom & pop” tutor down the street to offer this service along with undergraduate admissions consulting.  The picture started to change as the Internet emerged with the arrival of startups with physical presence in major cities.  Most recently a maverick named Knewton.com has shaken up the test tutoring world with its aggressive pricing, Internet-based offerings, and “50-point-improvement” money-back guarantee.This fragmentation of the GMAT prep industry means that applicants no longer need to settle for a one-size-fits-all tutor.  In response, The MBA Exchange introduced an evaluation and referral service to help our clients select the ideal tutor for their needs.  In fact, our consulting team features a licensed psychologist with expertise in treating GMAT test anxiety – which can extend into the selection of a tutor.

7. Importance of “Career Services” as an ally to students – and to admissions officers
MBA Career ServiceA common theme in this list of trends is The Economy.  As applicants have become more risk averse in their decision about leaving jobs to enroll in full-time MBA programs, they started to look at the statistics published by careers services offices regarding the number of job offers, starting compensation, and type of recruiters as experienced by the previous graduating class.  At the same time, admissions officers started to enlist the pragmatic viewpoint of their counterparts down the hall in Career Services to help gauge whether an applicant’s stated career goals were realistic and achievable.   The growing significance of career issues prompted The MBA Exchange to add a veteran career services professional, Pam Schilling from Chicago Booth, to our consulting team to help our clients identify and present post-MBA goals that would enhance their candidacies.

About The MBA Exchange®
Comprised of more than 40 experienced graduates and former admissions officers from top-tier MBA programs, The MBA Exchange has helped a CPA-reported 97% of its clients to gain admission to leading business schools worldwide.  The firm’s expertise has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BusinessWeek.com, and PoetsandQuants.com.

Dan Bauer The MBA ExchangeAn MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, Dan Bauer is the founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange. His career includes management positions with Citibank, MasterCard International, and DDB Needham Worldwide. Mr. Bauer has served on the Board of Directors of the Harvard Business School Club of Chicago, and provided leadership for organizations including the American Marketing Association and Sales & Marketing Executives International. He is a member of the Association of Independent Graduate Admissions Consultants, Independent Education Consultants Association and the Higher Education Consultants Association, and an affiliate member of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals.

If you have questions about today’s changing MBA admissions marketplace, or would like a free, expert evaluation of your MBA candidacy in light of these and other trends, please visit www.mbaexchange.com

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