This post was written in a time of decreasing application volumes to top schools. The statements and conclusions it contains may not apply in an era of increasing applications.
The Class of 2020 profiles are starting to come out and we’re amazed that GMAT scores are STILL GOING UP WTF HOW?!???
Ross is now sporting a very healthy 720 average.
For comparison purposes, Columbia was below 720 until two years ago.
NYU is up to 717 from the prior year’s 714, and they are maintaining the 720 median.
NYU is currently one of the most transparent schools, releasing gobs of data on their entering classes, including the very useful stat of number of applications. For the 2017-2018 admissions season, app volumes went down by 4% at Stern — which is about what we are expecting to see at most schools.
Columbia’s GMAT is up to 732.
Perhaps even scarier, the average GPAs are ticking higher at many schools too. This is an often-unnoticed statistic but it’s super important.
And, it makes total sense to see that this year especially.
Because a lot of the schools have a DECREASE in the number of international students in their Class of 2020. Which is what we predicted would happen.
And, the average GPA is only ever reported for students that attended colleges that operate on a 4.0 scale.
Which means, mostly American, with a smattering of others around the world.
When international goes down, then obviously they’ve got more domestic students. And when a stat measuring primarily domestic students (i.e., GPA) goes up, then that means there are EVEN STRONGER admits in the American cohort than last year when that school admitted fewer of them.
For decades, interest in the MBA in America was counter-cyclical: When the U.S. economy got stronger, application volumes decrease. That’s due to the standard concept of opportunity cost. When you’re in a good career and getting good money and feeling secure about your future (i.e., overall stability in the economy) you’re less likely to be looking around at other options. When a sector like finance starts to soften, as began happening in early 2007, then in past cycles that meant application volumes at the top business schools started increasing. During the worst of the economic downturn is when most schools saw peaks in their numbers.
That pattern held true at many schools that saw all-time highs in app volumes in the Class of 2011 to Class of 2013 period (application seasons from 2008 through 2010). Then, apps dropped quite dramatically at some schools — but oddly, since then, interest in the MBA and application volumes began increasing again, even though the economy was also doing better.
So we’ve been in an atypical trend where the heretofore stable inverse relationship between economic health and MBA admissions stats has been broken. The past three years, the economy has started doing fine, and just recently it’s been humming along like rainbows and Skittles are our destiny forever. At least, that’s what the stock market says. We’re slightly off the top of the recent highs for the Dow and the NASDAQ but it’s been holding steady-state with no big shocks just recently. And a key measure of the economy, unemployment, is remarkably low (too low, say some economists) and so is inflation. One reason that inflation is moderate is because wages have still stayed stagnant. So even though it’s easy to find a new job if you want one, it’s less likely that (unless you work in tech) you’ll be able to get much of a raise. It’s especially unlikely that your income will increase if you stay put in your existing job at a large company. Employers are still being stingy.
That employer stinginess is probably at least one factor that’s driving the interest in the MBA — that, and that culturally there’s been a shift in perception.
We have a rich guy holding the office of President. We have a generation growing up with the Kardashians. We have a whole culture that’s fixated on flash and celebrity and money money money. It’s only natural that this will create a population of people who want to pursue greater wealth. Especially in light of the uncertainty in the world, with the memory of the financial crisis still echoing in our brains. Or with the hype of the get-rich-quick bitcoin thing and the seemingly ever-higher levels in the markets.
At the same time, the bachelor’s degree is now seen like a high school diploma was fifty years ago: It’s a basic requirement for a good job, but it’s not enough to really earn bank. For that, you need a master’s, and in this success-focused culture, there’s really only one master’s worth getting: The MBA.
Kids who used to go to law school now would never even consider it. A JD? Why on earth would you want that? Now there’s a whole generation of 20-somethings who are only interested in an MBA and have been planning for bschool since before they even finished their bachelor’s. If you took your GMAT during college then this year may be the last opportunity you have to apply before that score expires. And, anyone who took the GMAT in college is one of those overachiever types who did great on it — and also probably has close to a 4.0 GPA.
So, application volumes are up, and even when this past year the volumes moderated a tiny bit, the quality of the applicant pool is increasing. This is due to the massive changes in GMAT test policies and the change in behavior that those have precipitated and it could simply be due to the proliferation of test prep information on the internet. Now everybody has access to really good tools to get better on taking the test.
So. Where does that leave you?
1. If you’re an American candidate, don’t take anything for granted. The adcoms did not get all nationalist and decide to admit more Americans because they agree with the President. No. They admitted fewer internationals because they saw a decrease in interest from international candidates (almost definitely because of the political environment but that cannot be proven). Which means there were more seats for Americans again which would likely very much please the President.
BUT!! Just because more were admitted does not mean it was easier to get in as an American, as the data on GPA reveal. If you have a weakness on the academic side — not just the GMAT but literally your transcripts — be prepared to take action.
2. If you’re an international candidate, then as we said back in April, it should be somewhat easier to get in — but it’s been so very difficult for certain candidate pools that we’re not going to go so far to say it’ll be easier in general. It’s only easier in comparison to how hard it’s been. It’s still gonna be hard*!
And very important will be being realistic with your career goals, and expressing them carefully, and making sure you recognize what you’re up against not just in MBA admissions but in the recruiting environment post-MBA. Which matters at least as much, when it comes down to a willingness for an adcom to admit candidates from a particular pool or a cohort.
So, yeah, don’t worry about the averages or the stats. It’s important to recognize what you’re up against, but put that aside and TAKE ACTION. Make your apps as good as you can. Sweat the details. Think through the scenarios, and then roll up your sleeves and find ways to make it your best.
ETA: The day this post went up, Tuck published their Class of 2020 data, which showed a one-percent decrease in Americans on a slightly reduced class. We did the math and it’s a difference of around 6 or 7 students from the prior year. Tuck is a smaller school, with around 290 students every year, and this fluctuation isn’t extreme, but it does show that there are variations at different schools. The patterns in international vs domestic described in this post seem to be holding at many schools that we’re observing.
UPDATE: This topic on international and American applicants and what you can do about it continued here!
*We sometimes get complaints from BSers that all we do is say “It’s gonna be hard!!” and that that’s not useful. But the ones who complain about it rarely see the point we’re trying to make. If it’s gonna be hard, then that means: a) you need to TOTALLY up your game, work really really hard, PAY ATTENTION to the advice we’re offering, and then work harder; and b) set expectations and adjust your strategy to accommodate the “what-ifs” — like, what if it doesn’t work out? What if this thing you’re trying to do — apply to Stanford, pitch an entrepreneurial goal to the adcoms — what if what you’re trying is not enough? And almost always, what it means is you need to CHANGE YOUR APPROACH. Because if you’re complaining that that’s all we say, you’re missing the point. Complaining that that’s not useful is overlooking exactly the message we’re trying to give you by saying that.