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High Demand for Graduate Management Education

As fears about the pandemic fade, more students want to pursue business degrees.

Interest in graduate management education programs in 2021 continues to grow among prospective students, a trend that coincides with waning concerns about the impact of COVID-19, according to a new report published in late March by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The 2021 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report finds that the proportion of respondents reporting that they are extremely or very concerned about COVID-19 declined from 41 to 33 percent over the survey period. In addition, 73 percent of international candidates planning to pursue an MBA outside their countries of citizenship are not changing their original plans despite the pandemic.

Other key findings from the report:

Women candidates are more receptive to remote learning than men. Although studies have suggested that the impact of COVID-19 has been particularly severe on women as they shouldered more responsibilities of remote education, childcare, and work, the GMAC report finds that many female candidates are willing to adapt their plans for higher education. Specifically, women candidates are more likely than men to seek the flexibility of online learning and to agree that career opportunities are the same whether students attain their business degrees online or on campus.

More candidates are considering graduate management education as a way to upgrade their skills. Many are viewing a return to school as the best way to prepare themselves for the uncertain economy created by COVID. While more than half of prospective candidates (58 percent) say they had always planned to pursue graduate business education at this point, 37 percent say they are seeking the degrees now because they “want to apply for a job but lack required skills and/or degree to be competitive.” In other words, more candidates recognize the need to emerge more career-ready from a shaky economy.


International candidates continue to value mobility and do not want to substitute online learning for in-person experience.

International candidates still prefer to study in-person on campus rather than take classes online. In the survey, more than 40 percent of international candidates—those who wish to study outside of their countries of citizenship—report that their primary career motivation is to work outside their home countries. Seventy percent say the pandemic has not caused them to change their original plans. These international candidates continue to value mobility and do not want to substitute online learning for in-person experience.

The United States and the United Kingdom remain top destinations for international students. For instance, prospective students from India rank the U.S. as their top choice, ahead of their home country, while those from Canada and the U.K. pick the U.S. as their first international destination. For prospective candidates from Greater China, the top destinations are the U.K. (27 percent), the U.S. (21 percent), and Singapore (12 percent).

“COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted the future of work and the skills that are required for future success,” says Soojin Kwon, board director for GMAC and managing director of the full-time MBA admissions and program at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor. “This is something that business schools are fully aware of and adapting to as candidates seek to upgrade their professional and leadership skills to meet the demands of the rapidly changing workplace.”