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It’s Dream Job or Bust, Say Today’s MBA Applicants

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Seventy-one percent of current applicants to business school say there’s just one industry they want to work in, up from 58 percent with such a singular focus in 2014. This according to the latest Prospective Students Survey Report from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), released today. Not only that, 61 percent have a particular job function in mind upon graduation, up from just 46 percent the year before. The economy, GMAC notes, likely plays a role in this phenomenon, with prospective students perceiving their “dream job” as more attainable in today’s market than in the years following the Great Recession.

dream jobThe Prospective Students Survey Report, which polled more than 10,000 candidates throughout 2015, also revealed that today’s candidates are considering fewer types of graduate management programs than in previous years. On average, prospective students considered 2.8 program types in 2015, such as full-time two-year MBA, or full-time one-year MBA or Master of Finance, for example. This is down slightly from 3.1 in 2014. Half of all those surveyed globally indicated that they are only interested in MBA programs. Slightly more than a quarter, 28 percent, said they are considering both MBA and specialized master’s programs, and 23 percent are considering only specialized master’s programs.

The popularity of specialized business master’s programs—which require little or no prior work experience—is gaining on the MBA in Western Europe at a staggering pace, the survey found. Since 2009, the percentage of students in that region considering only specialized master’s programs has jumped from 22 to 45. Those considering only MBA programs has fallen over the same period, from 49 to 36 percent.

dream job
Source: Graduate Management Admission Council

Candidates Want a Blend of Classroom and Online Instruction
Regardless of the type of program they prefer, most candidates want a combination of classroom instruction and online learning. Candidates looking at full-time, two-year MBA programs say they want 86 percent of their coursework to take place in the classroom and the remaining 14 percent to be delivered online. At the same time, those looking for online MBA programs still expect 10 percent of course instruction to take place in the classroom to provide networking and experiential learning opportunities, the survey found.

What most motivates prospective students to consider pursuing a graduate management degree? It’s frequently a specific event or circumstance, according to the survey results. More than a quarter of respondents (27 percent) began considering graduate management degrees after initiating job searches only to discover they didn’t have the skills to be competitive for the position they want. Another 17 percent cited reaching a plateau at work as what spurred their interest. Another 17 percent said they were motivated by a lack of knowledge to do their job.

On average, prospective students start formulating their “short list” of schools a year before they apply, and 67 percent use social media to obtain information about programs, learn about upcoming events and connect with current students, alumni and faculty. Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular social media platforms among this group globally, except for in China, where prospective students are more likely to use the instant messaging platform Tencent QQ.

This was the first year that GMAC included members of Generation Z (born after 1995) in its analysis. “We found that Millennial and Gen Z candidates are more likely than past generations to have ‘stretch schools’ on their short lists,” GMAC Executive Vice President for School Products Bob Alig said in a statement. “All things considered, these candidates want to get into the best program possible—an indication of their high level of aspiration.” Indeed, more than half of Generation Z and Millennial candidates include a stretch school (59 and 55 percent, respectively), compared to just 35 percent of Generation Xers and 28 percent of Baby Boomers.

Overall, two-thirds of prospective students (65 percent) believe that it is important to get into the best program possible, although only 59 percent say they have thoroughly researched the programs where they intend to apply. The overwhelming majority of prospective students, 90 percent, have identified a single preferred school from which they want to earn their degree–regardless of where they are in their deliberation process of applying.

Finally, concerns about financing a graduate management degree continue to be pervasive, the survey found. More than half (51 percent) say that pursuing a graduate management degree requires more money than is currently available, and 46 percent expect doing so to require taking on significant debt.

To download GMAC’s 2016 Prospective Students Survey Report, visit