5 MBA Enrollment Trends Over the Last Decade | Tech US News

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Harvard Business School, Baker Library

This season, my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions celebrated 10 years of teaching MBA candidates to achieve their business school dreams. Look at yourself Fortune’s origin story inspired us to reflect on the MBA admissions landscape and what has changed for business school applicants over the past decade

More importantly, how do these changing trends affect how candidates should approach their MBA application today?

From fewer and shorter essays to greater gender equality and the rise of GRE scoring (compared to the GMAT), many trends in MBA admissions offer insights for today’s applicants. There have been big shifts in who applies and what they get out. How do these changes affect you? Here are five key trends to follow and what they mean for you.

  1. Fewer and shorter essays: less is more

Over the past decade, schools have gradually adjusted their essay question requirements, significantly reducing not only the number of questions, but also the word count. As Fortune’s Matt Symonds said, “Schools have really honed in on what they’re looking for and don’t expect the application to be a writing marathon.”

Let’s say Harvard Business School: If you applied to HBS in 2012, you had to tackle no fewer than four essays totaling about 2,000 words. Today, HBS has a unique essay recently limited to 900 words. Ten years ago, Stanford MBA candidates had to answer four questions, while today’s GSB candidates have only two. MIT Sloan wins the “less is more” leapfrog. From three essay questions totaling 1,500 words in 2012, today’s MIT applicants submit a 300-word cover letter.

Fewer words and essays may make it easier to complete your business school. But as legendary writer Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Telling a story that is both concise and compelling takes discipline and skill. As we see with our Fortuna clients, the ever-shrinking word count presents a tremendous challenge to capture everything you want to convey to MBA admissions.

In addition, top business schools ask questions that are not as easy as they once were. You need to do a lot more self-introspection and ask yourself some really worthwhile but intrusive questions like: Who am I? How did I get to where I am now? and What is really important to me?

  1. A more comprehensive and nuanced approach to assessment

In 2012, the evaluation of MBA applicants was based largely on fairly simple and comparable metrics, including test scores and GPA. While these standard metrics are still important, most schools prioritize learning more about who you really are beyond your track record of academic and professional excellence. What are your motivations, your life experiences, your guiding values? Admissions committees evaluate your emotional intelligence and capacity for change as much as your intellectual intelligence. Business education has really evolved over the past decade, and schools are realizing their role in developing the thoughtful and ethical leaders who will shape our world tomorrow.

For example, ten years ago, Harvard asked you to write about your career goals, accomplishments, failures, and why you want an MBA. Today, HBS poses one daunting, open-ended question: “What else would you like us to know when considering your candidacy for the HBS MBA program”? As Fortune’s Karla Cohen, a former HBS associate director, notes, “HBS seeks principled, passionate individuals who have the potential to fulfill HBS’s mission to educate world-changing leaders.”

Business schools have actually developed more comprehensive and nuanced ways of evaluating applicants. From formal assessments of emotional intelligence (the Yale SOM Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competence Assessment) to letters of recommendation (NYU Stern Special Question on EQ) to key traits (Dartmouth Tuck’s ‘friendliness’ criteria), to videos (Kellogg, LBS, INSEAD, and MIT), programs want to learn more about your character and interpersonal skills to predict your leadership potential and readiness for the MBA classroom. Berkeley Haas, for example, is explicit in evaluating the program’s fit with the school’s culture and core principles—questioning the status quo, self-reliance without attitude, students always and beyond themselves.

  1. Slow but real progress on gender equality

Although they may not have admitted it, 10 years ago most business schools believed they would achieve gender parity by 2022. And while many of the top MBA programs in the US have made good progress and some are getting closer, widespread gender equality in the MBA classroom is still a distant goal. And among the most elite programs, last year Wharton became the only top MBA program to achieve gender parity in 2021.

In November 2021, Forté Foundation research found that female enrollment in MBA programs has increased at 14 of the top 26 US business schools, and that 15 of those 26 schools have more than 40% more women in their MBA cohorts. . The burden of financing an MBA was often cited as a key reason why women were reluctant to enter the MBA pathway, along with the constraints of completing a full-time program and the desire to maintain a work-life balance. Schools have worked hard to address these issues, from offering more scholarships to developing programs and communities to support women’s special needs.

Wharton and USC Marshall, proud outliers who recently achieved (and in Wharton’s case, maintained) gender parity, are clearly doing something right. For Wharton, last year marked the first time in the school’s 100-year history that the class was predominantly female. Wharton has moved the needle 7% over the past decade; then, as now, 45% was considered a real achievement.

Over the past decade, top US colleges have gained an advantage in balancing male and female enrollment. Female enrollment among top schools: Kellogg (48%), Stanford GSB (47%), MIT Sloan and HBS at (46%), NYU Stern (45%), and CBS (44%).

In general, schools in Europe and the UK lag behind those in the US when it comes to gender equality. The exception is Oxford University’s Said, which leads with 48%, with Cambridge University’s Judge close behind with 47% (both schools have grown significantly over the past few years). The proportion of women is much lower at the other top schools: IESE (38%), LBS (37%), INSEAD (36%), IMD (35%) and HEC (34%).

  1. The climb GOES

Until 2006, if you wanted to apply to an MBA, you had to submit a GMAT score.

That year, a few progressive schools, such as Stanford GSB and Berkeley Haas, decided that one test did not fit all and began accepting the GRE as well. Then about 10 years ago, more and more schools started accepting the GRE. Although it was unspoken at the time, and even until recently, those within the system knew that unless the applicant was an unusually interesting, non-traditional ‘wild card’ candidate, schools heavily favored the GMAT.

Those days are over. The GRE is now widely recognized as a perfectly acceptable test score to submit on your application. Indeed, the GRE has gained validity and legitimacy among MBA admissions teams. Now, more than 1,300 business schools—including Wharton, Kellogg, and the London Business School (LBS)—accept the exam in applications. A staggering 29% of HBS Class of 2023 students were admitted with a GRE score, compared to 22% the year before.

Of course, there are some schools that still prefer the GMAT, but their minority is getting smaller and smaller. INSEAD, one of the top schools that has been most hesitant about the GRE, welcomes applicants who have taken this exam, although it wants to see a higher percentile on the quantitative portion of the GRE than it would accept on the GMAT. A trend troubling MBA admissions this year is the decline in applications to America’s leading business schools. However, this decline presents an unprecedented opportunity for candidates applying in the second round. As co-founder of Fortune Matt Symonds recently wrote in Forbes, “This year could be your best chance in a generation to get into an M7 business school like Harvard, Stanford GSB, Wharton or Columbia.” So, while a strong US job market is delaying domestic appetite for MBAs and employers are encouraging top talent, so to speak, demand for MBAs from the world’s top business schools remains high. And with potentially fewer applicants competing for limited spots in the world’s top programs, the odds are probably better than ever.


Melissa Joelson is a former INSEAD Communications Director and expert trainer at Fortuna Admissions, a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors from the world’s top business schools. Our DNA hasn’t changed since Fortune was founded a decade ago: our goal is to provide candidates with insider expertise and leverage the insights of those who truly know schools inside out. For an honest assessment of your chances of admission to a top MBA program, please contact free consultation.

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