Current Business School and MBA Admissions Trends (AIGAC Conference 2021 Takeaways)


Last month, the Association of Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) held its annual conference in a virtual format where Admissions Officers from both US and European MBA programs spoke about recent trends and developments pertaining to their schools, the broader business school community, and MBA admissions one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Key takeaways from the conference are below.


Application volume is expected to be flat to up in the 2021-2022 application cycle


The volume of business school applications in a given application cycle is typically counter-cyclical in nature. In other words, when the economy is strong and there is a robust job market, people decide to continue working, leading to fewer business school applications. On the flipside, when the economy is in a recession and the job market is weak, many people think about returning to school, and as a result, the number of MBA applications increases. With the onset of COVID-19, we faced the latter scenario, and therefore, not surprisingly, Admissions Officers confirmed that application volume increased in the 2020-2021 application cycle, with some schools citing that uptick in the high teens to +20%.


Looking ahead, many Admissions Officers echoed that in the upcoming 2021-2022 application cycle, they are expecting application volume to be flat to up.


There is a strong focus on EQ when evaluating candidates


With COVID-19 as the backdrop, Admissions Officers at the conference stressed that a candidate’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) has become even more important in the evaluation process and that they strongly seek evidence of that in the applications. Schools in particular emphasized that they are looking for “humility, grace, gratitude, [a habit of] giving to others, self [awareness], and [focus on the] community.” In other words, a candidate is much more than his/her professional achievements, GPA, and standardized test scores. Moreover, Admissions Officers noted that in addition to the applications, the interview is also used to assess these qualities in candidates.


The virtual world is here to stay


While MBA programs are hoping to bring students on campus in the Fall, the virtual world in general is here to stay. For example, Admissions Officers spoke of the ease of interviewing candidates virtually as well as the benefits for prospective candidates when it comes to enabling everyone, regardless of where one may be, to learn about their schools and programs. In essence, this has leveled the playing field for all applicants; in doing so, it has made it imperative that candidates take the time to learn about the schools since all one needs is a computer and an internet connection (i.e., there is no excuse not to learn about MBA programs).


Overall, the conference generated very thoughtful and insightful discussions with every single Admissions Officer stressing that the value of the MBA has never been stronger.

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