How Has COVID-19 Altered Candidate Preferences for GME?

Posted by Abigail Lister
Abigail Lister is a freelance writer specializing in higher education, business, and travel. She has a master’s degree in American Studies and resides in York, UK.

Posted on Jul 5, 2022 11:05:32 AM

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In April 2022, GMAC published the latest edition of the Prospective Students Survey. This year, the survey included responses from more than 6,500 individuals from 156 countries. These students were asked about their perspectives on graduate management education, including preferred program types and career aspirations.

In the latest GMAC Research webinar, “How Has COVID-19 Changed Candidate Preferences?,” we delved further into the survey’s results to see how the pandemic has altered candidate preferences for GME.


COVID-19 has changed candidate preferences in three main ways.

1) Flexible programs are more in-demand, though the full-time MBA remains the most popular program type

Unsurprisingly, the traditional MBA program retains its status as the most popular type of graduate business program this year. More than 40 percent of prospective students want to study this program over others, like business masters or executive MBAs.

Indeed, applications to MBA programs grew at similar levels in 2020 and 2021, proof that candidates still consider a full-time MBA program relevant, perhaps even more so than in 2019.

However, there are changes in candidate preferences for different types of MBA programs. For example, we’ve seen an increased interest in the one-year MBA, specifically among US citizens wishing to study domestically. The percentage of candidates interested in this program type grew from 15 percent to 19 percent between 2019 and 2021.

Candidates are also more interested in hybrid courses than before the COVID-19 pandemic- a natural shift considering the recent disruption to in-person courses. Programs including part-time, flexible, and executive MBAs have seen significantly increased interest over the last few years— 44 percent of respondents said they were interested in these types of programs in 2021, compared to 30 percent in 2019.

2) COVID-19 has resulted in fewer internationally mobile GME candidates

In 2021, Western Europe and the United States were the most popular destinations for GME candidates, which is unchanged compared to pre-pandemic surveys. What has changed, however, is worldwide student mobility.

This is most obvious when comparing GMAT exam score sending data for different regions. In the US, for example, the majority of GMAT test-takers send their scores to US business schools. This was also true for Chinese applicants—and to a less extent, Indian applicants—in 2012, but the percentage of these applicants sending scores to US schools in 2021 has dropped considerably.

In 2012, nearly 80 percent of GMAT scores from Chinese applicants were sent to US business schools. By 2020, this had decreased to around 50 percent and dropped again in 2021 to approximately one-third. The trend is also apparent for Indian applicants, with prospective students increasingly seeking graduate business programs closer to home in 2021.

Although there was already a growing interest in business schools outside the US—in particular, schools in Europe and South and East Asia—before 2019, it’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated the trend. Overall, the percentage of East and Southeast Asian candidates who wish to study internationally declined from 92 percent in 2020 to 87 percent in 2021. The reduction was even more pronounced for Central and South Asian candidates, with the percentage of applicants seeking international programs declining from 89 percent in 2019 to 73 percent in 2021.

3) More candidates are interested in the technology sector, but career switchers are more open to a wide variety of careers compared to pre-pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic altered some industries more than others, and this is clear when reviewing which careers students are most interested in both pre-and post-pandemic. Unsurprisingly, consulting has maintained its position as the number one industry of interest, most obviously among career switchers. However, it’s also clear that more students are interested in pursuing a career in technology, particularly career switchers.

The percentage of applicants who said they were interested in a career in technology rose from 36 percent to 39 percent —a small jump, but one that’s significant when compared to other industries. The increase was even more pronounced among career switchers—the percentage who said they were interested in a career in technology grew from 46 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2021.

Similarly, the pandemic has affected the percentage of women who are interested in the technology industry, a figure that grew five percentage points between 2019 and 2021. This year, one-third of female respondents said they were interested in pursuing a career in technology.

In general, though, career switchers are casting a wider net when it comes to their career prospects after the pandemic. Though the number of global applicants who wish to use their graduate business degree to make a career switch has stayed roughly the same both before and after COVID-19 (32%), applicants are expressing interest in more industries and job functions today compared to 2019.

Applicants remain confident in the value of GME

Despite some changes in candidate preferences for GME, one thing that has stayed the same between 2019 and 2020 is how GME is perceived more generally.

Eight out of 10 respondents to the Prospective Students Survey agreed that a graduate business degree will help them stand out at work, a figure that has stayed roughly the same over the last three years. Though preferences for programs and careers may adapt to global events, applicants still believe that pursuing GME is a valuable choice.

To find out more about how GME candidate perspectives have shifted, watch our webinar recording now on the GMAC website. You can also explore the full GMAC Prospective Students Survey 2022 Summary Report.


Topics: Prospective Students, Research Insights, graduate business school candidate, graduate business school, business school, pandemic, Student Survey, candidate insights, candidate research, COVID-19

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