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Masters Degree Not a Substitute for an MBA

New 2017 GMAC mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report shows many candidates with a prior business master’s degree are considering an MBA.

Three in 4 prospective graduate business school candidates who hold a prior master’s degree are considering enrolling in MBA programs, according to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The MBA remains the predominant program format considered by candidates with both prior business master’s degrees (61%) and non-business master’s degrees (86%).

“These findings demonstrate that a business master’s degree is not necessarily the end of graduates’ business education,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “For many, their business master’s degree is a stepping stone to continued professional development that may include an MBA down the road, in either a full-time or part-time format.”

The findings of the mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report show that globally 22% of prospective business school candidates have a prior master’s degree, with considerable regional variation. While 2 in 5 European candidates have a prior master’s-level credential, the same is true of just 14% of US candidates.

Other key findings include:

Demand for Business Master’s Programs Continues to Grow

Fueled by growing candidate demand, non-MBA business master’s programs continue to proliferate. Globally, the percentage of candidates considering only business master’s degrees has increased from 15% in 2009 to 23% in 2016.

Non-MBA programs and MBA programs attract distinct candidate pools seeking different outcomes. Candidates considering non-MBA business master’s programs skew younger and the majority have little to no prior work experience and are more interested in developing their technical skills. MBA candidates are typically older, have more years of work experience, and are more interested in developing their managerial and leadership skills.

International Study Demand Remains Strong

Nearly 3 in 5 prospective business school students (59%) intend to apply to programs outside their country of residence, up from 44% in 2009. Most candidates seek study opportunities outside their country of citizenship to receive a higher-quality education, to increase their chance of securing international employment, and to expand their international connections.

US Remains Most Preferred Study Destination Though Candidate Preferences Are Shifting

Consistent with past research, more than 9 in 10 US candidates prefer to study domestically (96%). Globally, among full-time MBA candidates looking to study outside their country of citizenship, 58% prefer to study in the US, down from 61% in 2009. Since 2009, there has been an increase in MBA candidates preferring to study in Canada (7% in 2016, up from 4% in 2009).

There has been a similar shift in preferred study destinations among non-US candidates interested in business master’s programs. In 2016, 47% of non-US prospective students interested in business master’s programs expressed a preference for study in the US, down from 57% in 2009. Over time, a greater share of these candidates have shown interest in applying to programs in Western Europe (34% in 2016 vs. 30% in 2009), Canada (7% in 2016 vs. 4% in 2009), and East and Southeast Asia (7% in 2016 vs. 4% in 2009).

Recent Immigration Policy Changes Having Impact on International Study Choices

Recent shifts in immigration policies may impact candidates’ study destination preferences in 2017. Anticipated changes in US immigration policies and last year’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom may make it more difficult for non-citizens to obtain student visas to study in those countries or to obtain work visas after graduation to seek employment, one of the main reasons for studying in those countries.

In the aftermath of the US presidential election results, the percentage of non-US citizen mba.com registrants who say they are now less likely to study in the US has grown from 35% in November 2016 to 43% in April 2017.

Early indications are that the British Brexit vote to leave the European Union may negatively impact international candidate demand to apply to U.K. business schools. In December 2016, among nearly 1,300 non-UK GMAT test takers surveyed about the Brexit vote, 45% indicated that the Brexit vote has made them less likely to study in the UK.

Education Costs and Financing Continue to Weigh Heavily on Candidates’ Minds

The two most important financial aspects that candidates evaluate when deciding where to apply are total tuition costs and scholarship availability. Compared with 2009, candidates, on average, expect to cover a greater share of the cost of their education with grants, fellowships, and scholarships and a smaller share with parental support, loans, and employer assistance.

Analysis in the 2017 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report is based on survey responses provided by 11,617 individuals who registered on mba.com between February and December 2016. To download the full report visit: gmac.com/prospectivestudents. For supporting graphics, visit the GMAC News Center.

From GMAC press release. Please contact Jennifer Garfinkel for press.

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