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Results of the US Presidential Elections to Shape Mobility of International Students

Posted by Rahul Choudaha
Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC. As an evangelist of graduate management education, he analyzes, presents, and writes to help business school professionals inform their admissions and marketing strategies. He has delivered over 150 conference presentations and has been quoted over 300 times in global media. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education administration.

Posted on Nov 10, 2020 7:00:00 AM

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How are prospective international students considering MBA and business master’s programs for the 2021 application season responding to US elections' outcomes? A pre-election poll suggests that international candidates are more likely to study in the US if Biden is elected president. In addition to direct implications for the US, alternative destinations competing to attract global talent are also likely to experience the impact of this shift in preferences.


It is no secret that US business schools faced a challenging time after the 2016 presidential elections. The subsequent anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies created many perceptual and real barriers for prospective international students considering studying in the US. This redirected some of the global demand for graduate management education (GME) towards more welcoming destinations, including Canada and Europe. This shift is evident from the 2017 Application Trends Survey, where a smaller proportion of US programs (38%) reported growth in applications as compared to Canada (75%), Asia Pacific (72%), and Europe (65%). [Related GMAC Report: Early Warning Signals: Winners and Losers in the Global Race for Talent].

Access the webinar with a global panel of admissions professionals on key findings of 2020 Application Trends Survey report.


How would the outcomes of the 2020 presidential elections shape the future of student mobility? A pre-election poll of international candidates (non-US citizens) aimed to evaluate the impact of President Trump's re-election as compared to the election of Vice President Biden on the preferences for US study. The findings suggest that Biden's election would increase the possibility that prospective international students would consider studying in the US.


In this poll, a quarter of international candidates (24%) indicate that they are more likely to pursue graduate management education in the US if Biden is elected president. This means that Biden's election could create a surge of prospective candidates who would consider the US more favorably than other destinations.

In contrast, 2 in 5 (43%) of international candidates indicated that they are less likely to pursue a US degree if Trump is re-elected. Another way to look at the contrast is that three times as many prospective students indicate that they are less likely to study in the US if Trump is re-elected (43%) than those saying they are less likely to study in the US if Biden is elected (14%).

In sum, international candidates perceive Trump's re-election as a limiting factor for choosing the US as a destination while seeing Biden's election as an enabler. B-schools in alternative destinations such as Australia, Canada, and Europe benefited from the reduction in demand from the US in the last four years. If visa policies and national attitudes become more immigrant-friendly in the US, competition to attract international students would increase.

The 2020 Application Trends Survey report from GMAC shows that decision-making, for schools and candidates, during this pandemic-induced economic downturn is about hedging risk and managing uncertainty. Specifically, disruption of travel plans, and on-campus classes significantly affected international candidates, resulting in a higher proportion of deferrals. For many b-schools, the 2020 US presidential election would interact with the pandemic uncertainties to reshape global mobility and reconfigure the enrollment funnel. In light of this shifting landscape in graduate management education, the role of continuous monitoring and understanding candidate insights in shaping enrollment strategies becomes even more critical.

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Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Application Trends, Research Insights

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