MBA Application Volume Down, Quality Up

The Graduate Management Admission Council has just released new survey data showing that business school application volume declined yet again this past year. As the worldwide economic malaise drags on, it seems as though more applicants are holding back, being unsure about what kind of job prospects will await them when they complete their degrees. According to the new survey results, more than two-thirds of responding MBA programs reported a decline in applications in 2011 compared with 2010.

Interestingly, as application volume declined, applicants’ academic quality actually improved over the past year. In fact, 91% of full-time two-year MBA programs reported seeing equally or better qualified applicants in the past year. So, with quantity down a bit but quality improving a little, which macro trend should you focus on more, as an applicant?

As we’ve written before, there’s really only one statistic that you should care about: The number of GREAT applicants who apply to each of these schools. Why? Because that’s where your competition comes from. If an additional 1,000 people with sub-500 GMAT scores apply to HBS, that will significantly lower the school’s acceptance rate. But, if you’re a competitive applicant, it won’t matter to you. The admissions committee will still judge you on your own merits.

Harvard Business School reported that its application volume fell by 4% (to 9,134) this past year. That works out to about 380 fewer applicants competing for a seat at HBS this past year/ Good news, right? Well, you don’t really know who those 380 applicants who “went away” are (neither do we). Were they all rock stars with 750+ GMAT scores, 3.8+ GPAs from Ivy League schools, and amazing track records of philanthropy and leadership? If so, we’ll buy the champagne!

Unfortunately, it’s more likely that only a fraction if those people were really competitive at HBS. (By “really competitive” we mean that the Harvard admissions committee could have reasonably chosen them ahead of some applicants who eventually were admitted.) Taking Harvard’s acceptance rate into account, that amounts to no more than 45 great applicants. It still feels good if that competition goes away, but don’t kid yourself… It’s not like 380 rock stars suddenly vanished. More like a few dozen, at most. Add in the fact that schools reported that academic quality among applicants ticked up a bit, and that number of vanishing great applicants may be closer to a couple dozen.

Yes, we do sell GMAT prep courses and MBA admissions consulting… Of course we’re going to say that the decrease in applications doesn’t make it easier to get in, right? Actually, as applicant numbers kept climbing until 2009, we frequently made the reverse argument to many applicants: Yes, application numbers are soaring, but that doesn’t automatically mean that your chances just got much worse. You only need to worry about the other great applicants (especially those most similar to you). Just focus on what you can do to make your application terrific, and let the rest just happen, because that’s all you can do.

If you plan on applying to business school this year, call us at 800-925-7737 and speak to a Veritas Prep admissions expert. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!