Implications of a Competitive MBA Admissions Cycle

Business schools originally had deep concerns about the irreversible damage the pandemic could bring to their academic field. However, the latest data tells otherwise. MBAs saw a sharp increase in application numbers, as well as higher average GMAT scores. Numerous schools have also reported that they now have a more diverse student pool with higher enrollment rates from women and minority populations.

This indicates that the competition for MBA admissions has become fiercer, pushing students to go beyond what schools used to seek in an applicant. Shelly Heinrich, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown McDonough School of Business, said that a higher number of deferrals from the previous year has also contributed to the exceptionally competitive admission cycle.

For example, at Georgetown, the overall average GMAT score increased by 17 points, and their admission rate decreased by nine percent. “We were simultaneously more selective […] and were more attractive, increasing yield by seven percent,” Heinrich noted.

Yet, she also points out that the higher competition would also bring benefits to the prospective students as they will be part of a more diverse student pool with various work experiences in different sectors. She said, “When you’re analyzing a case study about Fortune 100 company, you want someone in your class that has worked there.”

Increasing diversity in business schools

Many MBA programs across the U.S. reported increased diversity in their entering class. At the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, 46 percent of its Class of 2023 will be women, up from 43 percent last year. Soojin Kwon, managing director of MBA admissions at Michigan Ross, said, “This is a record percentage of women in our full-time MBA class. It was achieved by continuing to execute our strategy of focused recruiting efforts and in particular, leveraging our students and alumni from different affinity groups.”

The managing director also mentioned that the school set its own record for many other parts — all-time high GMAT average, record selectivity at 20 percent, and highest number of applications from underrepresented minorities.

NYU Stern School of Business had a similar experience in the recent admission cycle. It reported its historic high GMAT average of 729, along with an eight percent increase in enrollment from 317 last year to 360 students.

Lisa Rios, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Stern, believes that a more applicant-friendly admission process and continuously growing demand for MBA degrees were two main contributors to the recent trend of stronger class profile. She noted, “For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, NYU Stern continued to adopt an applicant-centric approach, including adding three new standardized test options — LSAT, MCAT, and DAT — to the existing GMAT, GRE, and Executive Assessment.”

Growing emphasis on emotional intelligence in MBAs

However, a high GMAT score and a fascinating résumé are not the only factors that MBA admissions look for. For instance, admissions at Stern closely evaluates applicants’ emotional intelligence in its admissions process. Rios commented that the emotional intelligence is especially important for MBA students as “[t]he students’ classmates are the people they will learn from, be in clubs with, work on experiential learning projects with, and in many cases work with after graduation.”

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management works to build a more diverse student body from various backgrounds and experiences. Photo: Maksim Sokolov / Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Joseph Milner, the vice-dean of MBA programs at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said that the school tries its best to build a diverse student body with applicants from various backgrounds and past experiences, which would help its students to further develop emotional intelligence.

He noted, “We build our diverse class taking into account the experiences and backgrounds of our applicants. We then mindfully divide the students into sections, paying attention to the multiple dimensions of how students define themselves.”

Rotman’s effort to bring more diversity on campus seems to be working; it welcomed 25 percent more black applicants last admission cycle. Furthermore, the school has brought changes to its career services in order to better align them with the job market. As a result, 97 percent of the Class of 2021 were successfully employed within three months of graduation.

Referring to the recent surge in MBA applications and the consequent high competition, Milner advised future applicants, “We look for intellectual horsepower, experience, impact, communications, presence, and a ‘spike factor’ – something that the applicant sees as defining themselves uniquely. All of these are looked at and weigh in the admissions decision.”


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