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MBA Application Volume Up Around the Globe, According to Latest GMAC Survey

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At the annual Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) conference in Denver this past June, the admissions directors we talked to from leading business schools were almost giddy. It was still early in the cycle, but application volume had been high—and applicants had been strong—making preliminary profiles for the Class of 2017 look very exciting.

As students have come to campus and schools have shared their actual Class of 2017 profiles, the cause of that excitement has become clear. The average GMAT score for this year’s first-year students at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management jumped from 716 last year to an all-time high of 724. At Wharton, the mean score for the incoming class this year is 732, up from last year’s record-setting 728. At Harvard Business School (HBS) the median GMAT score rose from 724 last year to 730 this year. (HBS does not publish mean GMAT scores.)

Today, GMAC, which owns and administers the GMAT, released figures from its 2015 Application Trends Survey , revealing that the giddiness at last June’s conference was warranted—MBA application volume was indeed up around the globe, with a majority of full-time MBA programs reporting an uptick in applicants. GMAC consulted 641 graduate business programs at 306 universities worldwide to arrive at its findings.

Among full-time two-year MBA programs, 57 percent reported an increase in application volume this year, GMAC reports. Full-time one-year programs had a good year, too: 51 percent saw the number of applicants increase year over year, up from just 37 percent that reported growth last year. Compared to 10 years ago, 60 percent of full-time two-year MBA programs and 53 percent of full-time one-year MBA programs report that they received more applications this year than in 2005.

“This is positive news and reflects a strong full-time MBA market,” said Bob Alig, GMAC’s executive vice president for school products, in a statement. “The full-time MBA continues to be a sought after credential because graduates consistently see a high return on their investment—not only in terms of earnings, but also in job satisfaction and personal fulfillment.”

We’ve definitely seen an increase in women applicants,” said Sara Neher, admissions director of UVA’s Darden School of Business back at the GMAC conference in June. “Everyone’s talking about it,” she said, referencing admission directors from other schools. “I just worry that they’re not real,” Neher said, half-jokingly.

GMAC’s data bears out Neher’s experience. The percentage of women in MBA applicant pools has increased 3 to 8 percentage points over the last five years for all but one of the program types analyzed, GMAC reports.

Of full-time two-year MBA programs, 51 percent report more women applicants in 2015. This was evidenced not only in the preliminary, anecdotal findings shared by Neher and others in June, but also in the official news from the schools earlier this fall. Kellogg triumphantly announced that women would make up 43 percent of its incoming class, up five percentage points over last year. Wharton moved up to 43 percent from 40 last year. HBS had a two point gain over last year, to report that its incoming class is 42 percent women. UC Berkeley’s Haas School, which blazed a trail last year in drawing 43 percent women, this year still attracted 41 percent and boasts more women in its overall program than ever before. Tuck topped 40 percent women for the first time ever. Darden, for its part, welcomed 35 percent women, a record for the school. Sara Neher can cast her worries aside, those women applicants appear to have been quite real.