4 New Facts About Business School Candidates in the AI and Social Impact Era

Posted by Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker is the Director of Research Analysis and Communications at GMAC. In this role, he works to disseminate actionable and relevant research findings about the global graduate management education industry. Andrew holds a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.

Posted on Apr 26, 2024 11:18:07 AM

Five young people look at a laptop in a library

Based on results from more than 4,000 candidates from 132 countries, the latest GMAC Prospective Students Survey offers new insights into candidate expectations for artificial intelligence (AI) and social impact along with ongoing patterns in their modality preferences, mobility trends, and more. 

For more than a decade, the GMAC Prospective Students Survey has provided the world’s graduate business schools with critical insights into the decision-making processes of people actively applying to, considering, or researching graduate management education (GME) programs.

The 2024 report offers new perspectives—also discussed at a recent webinar, AI? Sustainability? Flexibility? What Candidates Want From Business School (passcode: ZLKz4v?H)—about the mindset of candidates who are seeking business education in an era of new technology and pressing global problems. 

1. Candidate expectation for AI grew 38% year-over-year, with two-fifths now demanding it in their curricula. 

In 2019, 29% of candidates reported that artificial intelligence was an important part of their ideal GME curriculum. In just one year, that figure ballooned to 40% as generative AI tools feature more prominently in conversations about the future of business and business school.

Regionally, candidates from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia have the most interest in AI, and there has also been double digit, statistically significant growth in interest among U.S. candidates as well.

A small gender gap has also emerged, with 42% of men reporting interest in AI in GME courses compared to 37% of women. This is likely due in part to women’s underrepresentation in the types of undergraduate majors that indicate the most interest in AI, such as business or engineering/computer science—not to mention the broader social and economic factors that influence individual decision-making but lead to gendered educational and labor force trends like these.

2. Most candidates find inclusion, sustainability, and well-being to be important to their GME experience—and many won’t even consider programs that do not prioritize these topics. 

Leveraging the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a neutral and authoritative foundation, we asked candidates about three dimensions of social impact: sustainability, equity and inclusion, and health and well-being. Prospective students identified how important each topic was to their academic experience, as well as if they would still consider a GME program that did not prioritize the subject.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of candidates said each issue was important. But among those who were concerned with these topics, candidates were the most likely to rule out schools that do not prioritize equity and inclusion, with more than half (57%) indicating a lack of prioritization is a dealbreaker.

Candidates from Africa and Asia were typically the most likely to say sustainability, equity, or well-being are important to their academic experience. However, social impact-concerned candidates from Eastern Europe and Canada were the most likely to rule out a school that does not prioritize sustainability or equity and inclusion, and well-being-concerned candidates from Central and South Asia were more likely to rule out schools that do not prioritize it.

Consistent with other gendered trends in social impact, women were more likely than men to indicate these topics are important or very important to their academic experience, though there were not gender differences in the share of candidates who would rule out a program based on these topics.

3. Since 2019, interest in hybrid program delivery has grown in every region except Central & South Asia, with the greatest interest now in Africa and North America. 

Over the past five years, interest in hybrid programs has increased in most places around the globe as candidate preference for in-person instruction has declined and interest in online instruction has largely remained stable. The growth in hybrid interest has been most pronounced in East and Southeast Asia, whereas there has been no change in hybrid modality preferences among candidates from Central and South Asia.

This year, we also asked candidates who reported a preference for hybrid modalities their ideal balance of in-person and online instruction. Most of these candidates indicated they want to spend at least half of their time in the classroom, if not more.

4. Affordability and safety are important considerations among prospective students from key markets.

As depicted in our recent candidate mobility infographic, candidates from Central and South Asia make up the largest share of the GME pipeline while the United States is the top study destination for a plurality of candidates.

When it comes to why candidates prefer to study in some places over others, they generally cite factors like the reputation of the educational system or its perceived ability to better prepare graduates for their careers. However, there are additional factors that may be driving new mobility patterns in key markets.

In India, for example, affordability motivates some candidates to want to study in Western Europe or within the region. This comes as 53 percent of Indian candidates say they want to at least apply to domestic programs—up from 41 percent in 2022.

Some candidates from Greater China also cite affordability when explaining why they want to study in Western Europe, which is the most popular study destination among Chinese candidates. Meanwhile, interest in the United States hit a five-year low—now at similar levels to the Chinese candidates who prefer to study within East and Southeast Asia. Among those candidates, a third indicate their personal safety and security is a key reason—something that candidates in Greater China may not associate with studying in the United States.

Overall, our 2024 report confirms last year’s findings that candidates are considering business school and their ROI across a range of traditional, personal, and societal outcomes—and social impact, AI, and flexibility are even more discernable ways to help programs stand out.

To learn more, you can answer your own questions about things like candidates’ degree and modality preferences or paths and barriers to business school with our interactive data tool. You can also find detailed country-level and degree-based insights in our supplemental data reports

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Research Insights, graduate management education, Student Survey, GME, MBA, candidate insights, candidate research, survey, research library, alumni

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