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2009 Application Trends

April 14, 2009 by

Whenever I speak to a group of  b-school aspirants, one of the first questions I’ll be asked inevitably is, “what’s going with application volume?  Will it be up or down this year?”  I guess that’s two questions, but you get the idea.

While it’s a challenge to ferret out accurate data in real time, some trends seem to have emerged.  Many schools reported a spike in first round applications.  No surprise there.  The conventional wisdom is that as the economy weakens, b-school applications increase.  This is confirmed by the robust attendance reported at MBA admissions events and a rising number of GMAT test-takers in 2008.

But something funny happened on the way to the anticipated record number of applications (not “haha” funny, more “hmmm”).  At many programs, applications plateaued and for some have even declined.  I look at three primary reasons for the unanticipated change in momentum  1)  it’s true that a soft economy spurs applications, however as the economy descends toward its nadir, would-be candidates are more likely to hold on to whatever job they have, even if it’s somewhat less than their dream job.  2)  the loan market has tightened up considerably.  Fewer sources of funds means fewer applications.  This is particularly acute among international applicants, whose total volume will most likely be down for the cycle, and 3) so much attention is paid now to applying early that the typical application flow has been irrevocably disrupted.  Whereas candidates used to fear applying in the final round, now I hear discussion about whether the second round is to be avoided as well.

What does this mean for those who applied for Fall 2009?  What does my 8-ball say about 2010 application volume?  “Reply hazy – see next post.”


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