AIGAC Releases 2016 MBA Applicant Survey White Paper

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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, according to the 2016 MBA Applicant Survey White Paper by the Association of Independent Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) released today. The survey 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

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, according to the 2016 MBA Applicant Survey White Paper by the Association of Independent Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) released today.

Nearly half of applicants (41%) who intend to apply by January 2017 expect a salary increase of more than 50% within 6 months after graduation. The majority of applicants expressed interest in the traditional post-MBA career paths of Consulting, Finance/Accounting, and Technology.

Since 2009, the AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey has solicited feedback on the business school admissions process from MBA applicants around the world. The survey 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 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 said that recorded video responses and group exercises were especially challenging. Nearly half of applicants (49%) said the video essay represented them “well” or “extremely well,” although survey comments revealed concerns by some applicants regarding technological 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 saying they submitted a GMAT score and only 7% of applicants saying 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 already took the GRE before applying to business school. Nearly a quarter of respondents, however, said it was because they 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
8.    Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
9.    Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
10.    INSEAD
10.    Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
10.    McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin

AIGAC President Andrea Sparrey of Sparrey Consulting and 2016 Survey Chair Scott Shrum of Veritas Prep presented the survey data and insights at this year’s annual conference in Boston on June 15, along with committee member Barbara Coward of Enrollment Strategies. Committee member Steven Round of Round One Admissions Consulting took a leadership role in the creation of AIGAC’s first Survey White Paper.

Over 50 admissions consultants from more than a dozen countries, as well as admissions directors and deans from leading business schools around the world, attended this year’s conference at The Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth College), The Sloan School of Management (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, The F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business (Babson College), and The Fletcher School (Tufts University).

Survey participants represent 83 countries

More than 3,500 applicants completed the survey between February 15 and May 2, 2016. They include 1,114 respondents who intend to enroll by January 2017. The majority are male (65%) and 44% live in the U.S. Nearly 20% already hold a master’s degree.

Download a copy of the 2016 MBA Applicant Survey (http://aigac.org/for-media/application-survey/).

About AIGAC

Founded in 2006, the non-profit Association of 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.

Visit the AIGAC website at http://www.aigac.org. Follow @officialAIGAC on Twitter and http://www.facebook.com/OfficialAIGAC.

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