It’s Not Them, It’s You: Why B-School Admissions Deans are Feeling the Pressure from Falling Applications

The Future of B-School Admissions: Are They Under Threat?

In the midst of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty, it’s not surprising that applications to business schools across the country have dropped dramatically. However, the urgency of the issue is becoming more apparent as admissions deans are feeling the pressure and scrambling to regain the lost ground. What are the implications of this trend? How are these schools responding? And, most importantly, what does this mean for the future of business education?

It’s no secret that the number of business school applications has been decreasing since 2017. The latest report by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) revealed that the application volume declined by 7% across the board in 2020 compared to the previous year. But it’s not just the pandemic that’s causing admissions teams to worry. For years, business schools have had to compete for the best candidates with tech companies and startups that offer competitive pay, flexible work hours, and innovative business models. As a result, the number of MBA applicants has fallen by over 30% at some top-ranked schools.

The decrease in applications has led schools to take proactive measures to ensure their programs remain competitive. For instance, schools such as Yale’s School of Management are rethinking their traditional admissions process, signaling a shift towards more holistic evaluations of applicants. Other schools are pouring more resources into diversity and inclusion efforts or offering specialized MBA programs in areas such as analytics and sustainability to attract more applicants.

However, there is a flip side to this tale. The decreasing trend in MBA applications has also forced business schools to confront other challenges, including the problematic nature of traditional MBA rankings. Many of these rankings rely heavily on survey responses from alumni who graduated years ago, while ignoring important metrics such as faculty diversity, skill development, or post-graduation employment rates. Further, schools have grappled with increasing skepticism among prospective students over the value of business degrees, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and do not guarantee job security.

One potential solution to this issue could be a rethinking of standardized tests like GMAT and GRE, which are commonly used by business schools as part of their admissions process. Schools could adopt a more “test-optional” approach that considers other factors that are more relevant to a student’s experience, such as undergraduate coursework, career progression, or leadership and community service. This would remove some of the barriers that some applicants face in demonstrating their merit, such as test-taking anxiety, disabilities, or lack of access to test prep resources.

However, even if business schools are able to address some of these challenges, there remains an existential threat to business education. With innovation and technology rapidly changing business models, we are seeing increased demand for alternative forms of upskilling and education, which offer quicker and more specialized training into in-demand skills such as coding, AI or digital marketing. Companies like Udacity, Coursera, and Lambda School are just a few examples of the many providers that are seeking to disrupt the traditional education market.

Conclusion:

The decreased application numbers represent a significant threat to business schools, but this can also be seen as an opportunity to innovate and adjust. Business schools need to be more inclusive, offer a broader curriculum, and provide graduates with valuable skills that are relevant to the job market. A more innovative approach can help bring more qualified students into the programs and reverse the downward trend. However, if business schools, and universities in general, are unwilling or unable to pivot and adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of work, they will likely be left behind and might soon face extinction. And as we see new forms of education appear and become more commonplace, this is a growing concern that should be addressed sooner rather than later.

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