Scott Edinburgh
May 6, 2021

2021 AIGAC Conference and the Latest Business School Admissions Trends

This week has been a busy one for Personal MBA Coach and for the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) #AIGAC2021. As a member of the AIGAC Board of Directors, I had the pleasure of meeting with and facilitating sessions with admissions directors from top MBA programs including HBS, MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, UVA Darden, Berkeley Haas, Michigan Ross, Yale SOM, London Business School and others at our annual conference.

Though virtual this year, the conference gave Personal MBA Coach a great opportunity to catch up with top schools, find out what is on their minds, discuss top MBA application trends, learn about upcoming MBA essays and gain a sneak peek into the 2021-2022 MBA application season.

Personal MBA Coach is excited to share the top emerging trends below:

Trend #1: MBA Application Rates Increased Last Year, But Not All Schools Agree That This Will Continue

It came as no surprise to hear from many top business schools that MBA application numbers increased last season (and during R3 in 2020), and conversely, that MBA acceptance rates fell. The economic uncertainty generated by COVID-19 led many to further their education to increase their competitiveness or look to business schools as a great place to ride out the economic storm.

Kellogg shared details of a double-digit application increase over the past two years. Similarly, Duke Fuqua and Dartmouth Tuck saw applications increase 20% year-over-year.

It is important to note that increased QUANTITY of applications does not necessarily correspond to increased QUALITY. Fee waivers, GMAT/GRE/EA score waivers, increased unemployment rates and (possibly) more free time at home led many candidates to apply to more schools, and in some cases more reach schools last year.

Not all schools think that this increased application rate will continue. As the economy strengthens, some top schools predict MBA application rates will show less growth in the upcoming season. Of course, nobody can predict the impact of COVID-19 in regions like India on applications, deferral requests and interest from new applicants this year.

Trend #2: Some MBA Class Sizes Have Increased

A combination of fewer than expected deferrals, higher MBA application levels and the use of virtual classes led a few top programs to increase their class sizes.

For example, Kellogg shared how this year’s incoming MBA class grew to 559 students vs. 475 students during the previous year.

Trend #3: Diversity and Inclusion Remains Top of Mind

This third trend also comes as no surprise in light of the global climate. Nearly all top business schools discussed the importance of recruiting diverse MBA classes. Happily, the diversity within MBA applicants is on the rise, increasing most schools’ ability to enroll diverse classes.

For MBA hopefuls, the implications of this trend are two-fold:

  1. Applicants from non-traditional backgrounds should be encouraged to continue to apply to top MBA programs.
  2. For applicants from over-represented industries and demographics the pressure to differentiate themselves is high. Helping candidates stand out in the crowded landscape is an area in which Personal MBA Coach specializes!

Trend #4: MBA Deferral Requests Are Once Again Expected

With regional COVID-19 rates unfortunately surging and resulting in continued travel bans, deferral requests will likely be a reality for MBA candidates matriculating during fall 2021. Fortunately, many top MBA programs plan to remain flexible.

In fact, Stanford GSB, Dartmouth Tuck and Duke Fuqua are among the programs that shared their plans to consider deferral requests, as needed.

While this may be good news for candidates currently sitting on waitlists, it is important to note that Personal MBA Coach expects these deferrals to have a trickle-down effect on 2021-2022 MBA applicants as once again a decent number of (already limited) seats may already be filled. That said, we expect the deferral requests to be significantly lower than last year. Gauging from our own clients, we see deferral requests coming from specific markets as opposed to the much wider array that we saw last year.

Trend #5: Virtual MBA Admissions Events and Interviews Are Here to Stay

While virtual campus tours, admissions director presentations and application interviews were a necessity during the global pandemic, many MBA admissions directors found advantages to this new format. Not only do virtual events save time for MBA admissions directors who are already stretched thin during the application season, but they also level the playing field for applicants who are geographically or economically challenged.

Given this emphasis on diversity and inclusion throughout the MBA application process, this increased equity in accessing information about applicants is crucial for admissions directors, who expect to continue to hold virtual events.

While in-person events are expected to resume to some extent (when it is safe to do so), these events will complement online offerings and minimize the need for candidates to travel during these continually challenging times.

Additionally, some top schools including Chicago Booth discussed plans for virtual interviews to continue, even in the post-COVID-19 era.

Trend #6: Candidates Are Applying to a Larger Number of MBA Programs

As competition increases and acceptance rates fall, it came as no surprise to learn from our MBA Admissions Consulting peers that candidates across the board are applying to an increasing number of programs. On average, candidates are applying to 5-8 schools, and we heard that many are in the 6+ range.

All business schools look to fill their classes with diverse candidates (particularly now!), and you cannot always predict which school might need someone who fits your profile. Adding a broad range of schools helps to balance this. Make sure that you have some “reach” schools, some “more likely” schools and some “safer” schools, especially if you want to secure an acceptance this year.

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