This Year’s Top Five Findings About Graduate Business School

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 Dec 14, 2023 10:35:44 AM

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As 2023 comes to a close, look back at GMAC’s key findings about Gen Z, first-generation candidates, business skills of the future, demand for flexible program delivery, and more.

Inform your 2024 planning with tips based on GMAC’s 2023 research—also explored in our recent Year in Review webinar—about candidate preferences, employer perspectives, and application trends.

5. Targeted outreach can help close the wide gap between first-generation prospective students interested in GME and those who actually apply.

This year, GMAC added new questions about first-generation candidates to our GMAC Prospective Students Survey and Application Trends Survey to garner insights into this critical segment of the candidate pipeline. We found that first-generation candidates make up 31 percent of those interested in GME but only 13 percent of applications in 2023.

In your outreach, first-generation candidates may be especially responsive to discussion of flexibility and work/life balance. Compared to their counterparts, first-generation prospective students are more likely to prefer online and hybrid program delivery as well as seek out GME to support their family. While cost is a concern among most GME candidates, 39 percent of first-generation prospects cite debt as a barrier compared to 29 percent of non-first-generation candidates.

As such, first-generation prospective students may respond more to tactical marketing and recruitment efforts rather than introductory persuasive information. We already know there is a large pool of prospective first-generation candidates interested in GME, so they might benefit more from specific information about the application process or financing options.

4. Employers and candidates agree communication, data analysis, and strategy skills are important, but recent grads wanted more data analysis preparation.

Based on evidence from our Corporate Recruiters Survey and GMAC Prospective Students Survey, more than half of both employers and candidates say skills like data analysis, strategy, leadership, presentation, and problem solving are essential to any business school curriculum.

However, the enrolled students and recent GME graduates who responded to GMAC’s Enrolled Students Survey indicated that data analysis is one of the skills they feel least prepared to practice in the workplace. This perceived lack of preparation is most pronounced among students from Europe, Asia, and Africa, whereas North American students tend to be more concerned about their preparation on technological skills.

These key areas present opportunities for business schools to bolster their students’ capabilities through new curricular or co-curricular offerings or to help GME graduates better explain to their future employers how their education has prepared them to apply these skills. 

3. Nearly all GME graduates are happy with their business school experience—but employment challenges among international students drive down satisfaction with career services.

According to GMAC’s Enrolled Students Survey, 90 percent of current students and recent graduates rated the overall value of their GME experience as good, excellent, or outstanding, with the highest favorability among those from programs in Europe and North America.

Amid the overall satisfaction toward their GME experience, enrolled students offered some insights into where they felt there could be improvements. For example, 72 percent of international students rated career services favorably compared to 90 percent of domestic students. While nearly three-quarters of international students indicating satisfaction is quite high, some were seeking additional and more specific support identifying internships, jobs, and next steps in their career journeys.  

2. On average, candidates may be more willing to sacrifice prestige for flexibility than they were before, especially as sentiment toward online and hybrid learning warms among candidates and employers.

In 2023, more than half of the programs offered in the evening or on weekends as well as those offered via online or hybrid formats experienced growth in their applications. Meanwhile, in-person and full-time programs—in addition to those that were most selective or higher ranked by the Financial Times or U.S. News & World Report—were more likely to experience application declines.

When it comes to online and hybrid programs, interest is highest among millennials, women, and first-generation candidates—those who are perhaps more likely to have parental or familial responsibilities and may benefit from the added flexibility in course delivery. Globally, about half of employers say they view in-person and online degrees equally.

All together, these trends indicate growing demand for flexibility in the classroom.

1. Gen Z want business schools to explain both the professional and emotional ROI they can gain from GME because they define success across multiple dimensions.

In GMAC’s white paper Gen Z in the GME Pipeline, Gen Zers from the United States, Germany, India, China, Peru, and Nigeria describe their ideal GME programs and how graduate business school might fit into their broader definitions of success.

They revealed preferences for flexibility, real-world application, and opportunities for networking and growth. Above all, Gen Zers indicated they want to hear about their return on investment. They are wondering not just if GME will be worth their time and money, but if it will be worth the stress or if they’ll get what they really want from a GME degree.

They are often seeking professional outcomes like financial freedom, leadership roles, and even work/life balance. But they are also seeking emotional outputs, too, such as making a positive impact, making their families proud, and making themselves proud, too.

Marketing and recruitment teams can therefore leverage both the tactical and emotional beats of current student or alumni stories, focusing on the specific steps they took to achieve a career goal, but also how that career goal fits into the broader life they plan for themselves.

Be sure to check out all of our 2023 insights in our recently updated online research library

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

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