Reconfiguration of the Enrollment Funnel for B-schools: New GMAC Survey Research

Applications for graduate management education (GME) increased by 2.4 per cent based on the weighted absolute change analysis of 731 programs that responded to the 2019 and 2020 Application Trends Survey. This is a reversal from a decline of 3.1 per cent in the applications last year.

This reversal of trends is in line with a well-established dynamic in which the demand for b-schools increases during economic downturns. The Guardian notes, “Demand for MBA courses tends to be countercyclical….When recession looms, as is now the case, the opportunity cost of taking a career break to update skills and build a professional network at business school reduces greatly.”


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However, the 2020 application season was unlike any other, resulting in a reconfiguration of the enrollment funnel. The pandemic-induced economic downturn coupled with the disruption of travel and on-campus classes necessitated that business schools and candidates make choices during times of continuing uncertainty.

Many b-schools responded to the uncertainty by adopting flexible admissions approaches, including extended deadlines and deferral policies. As a result, the number of applications increased. Schools also hedged enrollment risks by increasing acceptance rates. However, translating the increase in applications into actual enrollments was a challenge for many schools.

For candidates, GME offers a pathway to emerge from the economic downturn with better career prospects. While more candidates applied to b-schools; however, deferral rates also went up due to concerns about online learning, travel, and visas. For example, a previous GMAC poll of prospective students indicated that international candidates were more likely than domestic candidates to ask for deferrals rather than start a program online.

Overall, 2 out of 3 (67%) programs reported an increase in 2020 applications compared to 2 out of 5 (41%) in 2019. Median acceptance rates were slightly higher (70%) than 65% in 2019. Overall, median deferral rates increased from 2 per cent to 6 per cent in 2020. As a result, median yield rates for all programs reduced from 62 per cent to 60 per cent. In sum, the pandemic-induced uncertainty impacted the decisions of b-schools and reconfigured the enrollment funnel.

2020 GMAC Application Trends Survey-Europe-Asia-Canada-US

Among the programs that responded to the 2020 and 2019 surveys, the total number of applications increased for Canada (13%), Europe (24%) and the US (21%). Given the diversity and scale of Asia Pacific, there were higher country-level differences for this region.

The growth in application for Europe was driven by both domestic and international candidates. Three out of four programs in Europe reported an increase in applications. Nearly 90 per cent of Master in Management programs and 75 per cent of Master in Finance programs reported growth in applications.

In sum, one of the defining characteristics of the 2020 application season is the reconfiguration of the enrollment funnel as b-schools and candidates hedged their risks and managed uncertainties. Looking ahead, the results of the US presidential election would interact with the pandemic uncertainties to reshape global student mobility and reconfigure the enrollment funnel. The data shared in the report illustrates how the global landscape of graduate management education continues to evolve and confirms the importance of continuous monitoring and understanding of trends to shape enrollment strategies.

About the Survey:

The 2020 Application Trends Survey data was collected between July 30 and September 14, 2020, and garnered responses from 1,085 programs at 325 business schools worldwide. The 2020 report, set in the context of COVID-19, benchmarks application trends by regions and programs and offers insights into the global demand for graduate management education. The annual survey of business school admissions offices worldwide provides timely insights into understanding candidate pipeline and behaviour. This survey benefits admissions, recruitment, and marketing professionals by informing their future strategies and practices. It covers the following dimensions:

  • The global demand for graduate management education
  • Impact of COVID-19 on admissions, marketing, and program management
  • Differences in application trends for domestic and international students
  • Data on application, acceptance, and yield rates by regions and programs
  • Application trends related to MBA programs, including full-time, part-time, flexible, executive, and online
  • Application trends related to business master’s programs, including Master in Management, Master of Accounting, Master of Finance, and Master of Data Analytics


  • Acceptance Rate is the percentage of total candidates (including deferrals) accepted into the program divided by the total number of completed applications.
  • Yield Rate is the percentage of candidates that will enrol divided by the number of accepted candidates.
  • Deferral Rate equals the percentage of candidates that will defer divided by the number of accepted candidates.

Adapted from the original post at GMAC Advisor Blog.

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