Trends in MBA Program Enrollment

Posted: January 6, 2016

Students seeking to further their business education with an MBA have more options than ever before. Programs are targeted to specific skill sets in order to fit a niche job market and made to fit into a busy schedule for the working professional. This shift towards more tailored programs has created new challenges for marketers in a highly competitive industry.

In order to create an effective recruitment strategy for an MBA program, it’s essential to have an understanding of the competitive landscape and the target audience. Based on data from 2014 and 2015 GMAC and AACSB survey reports, we’ve answered a few questions that higher ed marketers should ask when developing a marketing strategy. We’ve also provided recommendations based on experience with our client partners.

What types of graduate business programs are prospective students interested in exploring?

  • 52% of students around the world are exclusively interested in an MBA program
  • Full-time two-year MBA programs are preferred by a third of this segment
  • 26% of students are considering both an MBA and a specialized business master’s program, while 22% are exclusively considering business master’s program
  • The most preferred specialized programs are Master of Accounting and Master of Finance

How has enrollment in these programs changed in recent years?

  • Full-time two-year MBA program enrollment increased in 2014
  • Demand for professional MBA programs (part-time, flexible and online) remained flat in 2014 (as well as in previous years)
  • However, applications have increased 47% for flexible MBA programs compared to 2013 (this is the second consecutive year that two-year programs have seen an increase in the volume of applications)
  • Enrollment in full-time one-year MBA, professional MBA and specialized business master’s programs has seen no change or is in some cases declining

What types of students are applying?

  • International students make up more than half of applications for most MBA programs (excluding Professional MBA programs)
  • 26% of prospective students intend to pursue entrepreneurial pathways upon program completion
  • Finance and consulting are two of the most sought-after industries amongst students
  • 65% of prospective students are interested in graduate education to increase available job opportunities

How do those students make their decision on where to enroll?

  • Prospective students develop their short list of schools nine months before taking the GMAT exam
  • School websites, friends and family, published rankings, current students, alumni and admissions professionals are the most influential factors in driving enrollment decisions
  • Quality and reputation are the two most important factors for prospective students when choosing a program of study
  • 70% of prospective students worldwide prefer to study in the US (the United Kingdom and Canada are the second and third choice)

How are students paying for school?

  • Financial issues are the biggest reservation that prospective students have when applying to graduate business programs (44% are hesitant to take on large financial debt)
  • 88% of businesses will offer tuition assistance, usually by way of a scholarship
  • 70% of programs do not expect an increase in employer reimbursement


Please note that all of the above data is is based only on recent research from AACSB and GMAC. In addition to this information, marketers should conduct additional research on institution-specific factors including precise geographic location, demographic data for your institution, success of past graduates, tuition costs and more.

Recommendations for Marketing Your MBA Program

Here are a few things that we’ve found to be essential in recruiting the most qualified students for any graduate program.

  • Understand who you are as an institution. One way to accomplish this is to make sure that you have a clearly defined brand that differentiates your program from the competition. For example, the University of California Santa Barbara Master of Technology Management Program was looking to target a very niche audience. In order to reach that audience with the right information, they defined their brand along with a core messaging strategy.
  • Provide an informative website that is representative of the student experience. For example, the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business uses its website as a tool to reinforce its brand pillars, the defining characteristics that make Smith unique.
  • Delivering the right content to prospective students at the right time allows them to efficiently conduct research and determine if your institution is the right fit. California Western School of Law built a content strategy into their website to ensure that students will easy be able to find the answers they need.
  • The most complex, but also most effective way to convert prospective students into enrolled students is through an integrated marketing strategy and plan. We partnered with NC State University Jenkins MBA program to create an integrated marketing plan that included brand messaging, website, print materials, info sessions, online advertising and more. They were able to deliver a consistent message across all platforms and gain recognition in a fiercely competitive geographic region.