Business school aspirants share four drivers for graduate management education

GMAC Prospective Students Survey

Prospective business school students aim to upgrade their skills while approaching their study, work—and life—with a purpose, according to an annual survey conducted and recently published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

With more than 15 years of survey responses representing all world regions, the GMAC Prospective Students Survey has provided the world’s graduate business schools with critical insights into the decision-making processes of people currently considering applying to a graduate management education program.

Based on data from more than 4,100 respondents in 132 countries, this year’s survey continues to explore trends in business school candidate preferences, with timely new questions added about candidate demand for equity and inclusion, sustainability, and health and well-being in their academic experiences. It also looked into the surging interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and the evolutions in candidate expectations for flexibility.

“The 2024 survey of prospective students reveals that candidates expect graduate business education to help equip them to advance social impact as a component of their professional and personal goals. Their strong desire to build evergreen skills like leadership in an uncertain world, data-driven problem-solving, and effective technology and human capital management persists, even though their preferences for delivery formats and study destinations may shift,” said Joy Jones, CEO of GMAC. “It is creating enormous opportunities for business schools to satisfy the ever-changing demands of candidates and industry with a wide variety of degree offerings and course flexibility.”

1. The three must-haves based on UN SDGs.

The survey shows 69 percent of potential students agreed that equity and inclusion—defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) of gender equality, reduced inequalities, quality education, and promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation—are important or very important to their academic experience in business schools.

In fact, they feel so strongly about it that 57 percent of them say they won’t consider a school that lacks these efforts. Interestingly, candidates from Europe, along with Latin America and the Middle East, who view equity and inclusion as important or very important are also more likely than those candidates from other regions to stay away from schools that do not incorporate the theme into their programs.

Sustainability—defined by the SDGs of sustainable cities and communities, affordable and clean energy, climate action, and sustainable use of water and land resources—generated similar responses. Sixty-eight percent of global respondents agree that it is important or very important, with 36 percent of them indicating that they would not consider a school that does not prioritise supporting sustainability.


GMAC Prospective Student SurveyFurthermore, three-quarters of candidates say efforts around well-being—defined by the UN SDGs of no poverty, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, and decent work and economic growth—are important to them when pursuing higher education, to the point that four out of six well-being-concerned respondents would eliminate schools from their consideration if these themes were not incorporated in the curriculum.

It is worth noting that when combining important and very important responses across each measure of sustainable development at the country level, candidates from different countries in Western Europe vary the most in how they perceive the importance of these social impact dimensions of their academic experience. Seventy-four percent of UK respondents, for example, consider sustainability vital to their business school curriculum while only 39 percent of German candidates concur.

2. Interest in AI takes a quantum leap.

What’s also driving the interest in advanced business education of would-be students is the transformative technology of generative artificial intelligence (AI). Globally, candidate demand for it grew 38 percent year-over-year, with two-fifths now saying it is essential to their curricula. Interest was the highest among those from the Middle East and Latin America, as well as among millennials and men.

The survey also shows that more men (42 percent) than women (37 percent) now view AI as essential to their business school programs, an emerging gender gap likely created by the fact that women make up a smaller share of the business school pipeline and the types of undergraduate majors that demonstrate the most interest in AI in GME curricula, such as business/economics, engineering/computer science, and science/mathematics.

Instead of reading into this data as evidence that women lack underlying interest in business or AI, it could perhaps encourage our industry to increase efforts in the recruitment of women earlier in their higher education journey to positively impact their career trajectory and labour participation in the future of work.

3. Demand for flexibility reaches new high

Over the past five years, interest in hybrid learning has grown around the globe at the expense of in-person learning. Most hybrid candidates want to spend half or more of their class time in-person and the rest online. This growth is seen across regions, except for Central and South Asia, with preference for hybrid study being the highest in Africa and North America.

In Europe, interest also rose significantly in just five years, from 9 to 16 percent in the western part of Europe and 14 to 22 percent in the east. Consistent with previous years’ findings – women are more likely to prefer hybrid programs compared to men, with 20 percent of female prospective students with this preference compared to 15 percent of men.

In contrast, global interest in online learning has not grown for the past five years. At the same time, in-person learning remains the most preferred delivery format among candidates despite its diminishing dominance. For example, online learning interest has persisted in single digits in Europe, with candidates’ preference for in-person learning—despite some declines from five years ago—as high as 77 percent in Western Europe and 69 percent in Eastern Europe.

4. The Master in Management rebounds

In terms of program preferences, full-time MBAs continue to be the preferred degree type. Forty-two percent of prospective students prefer either two-year or one-year full-time MBAs over the past five years, surviving even the disruptions caused by the pandemic and the increasing demands for flexibility.

Since 2014, the Master of Finance has consistently been the most considered business master’s program among global candidates, with the Master in Management sliding back into the second-most popular spot, driven by significant increases among candidates from Greater China, men in India, and especially women from Western Europe.

Read the full report for more trends in candidate’s program preferences and alternatives, desired skills and career outcomes, and study destinations to gain insights that support the business school’s recruitment goals.

For additional insights, trends and announcements from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), visit the conversation here.

1 Comment

  1. Amiko21 on April 2, 2024 at 17:18


Leave a Comment