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Stress Around Standardized Tests, Tuition Costs Looms Large for Current MBA Applicants

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Entrance exams generate more angst than any other part of the MBA admissions process for the majority of applicants to business schools, according to a survey released today by the Association of Independent Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC).

Sixty-one percent of respondents cited standardized tests as the most challenging application component, while 46 percent pointed to written essays and 20 percent indicated interviews. Interestingly, newer additions to the application process—such as videos and group exercises implemented in recent years by schools like Kellogg and Wharton—seem to incite less anxiety, with only 19 percent of applicants saying these were especially challenging. In fact, almost half (49 percent) said that the video essay represented them “well” or “extremely” well, except in the cases where technological difficulties arose, as was noted by some applicants in remote overseas locations.

The GMAT continues to be the overwhelming test of choice for applicants, with 89 percent saying they submitted a GMAT score in 2016, compared to just 7 percent who say they submitted a GRE score. Those who did submit GRE scores indicated that they did so primarily because they were applying to multiple types of graduate programs or because they had already taken the GRE before applying to business school, although a quarter of respondents who took the GRE said they chose it because they struggled with the GMAT.

Cost a Greater Concern for MBA Applicants Than in Past Years
The cost of the MBA is increasingly a primary concern for applicants, in some cases causing them to modify their list of target schools, the survey found. According to AIGAC, this represents one of the biggest shifts since it began conducting its annual survey of MBA applicants in 2009. In the survey’s inaugural year, respondents ranked financial aid and program cost as the least important factors contributing to which schools they chose to apply to. This year, 41 percent said the affordability of programs influenced school choices, and roughly one in five (21 percent) said that these two factors, in fact, caused them to change their target school list.

Concerns around cost may also be leading more MBA applicants to consider alternatives to the traditional full-time, two-year MBA. Interest in these types of programs fell from 89 percent in 2015 to 69 percent this year. Interest in full-time programs lasting less than two years increased, meanwhile, from 33 to 40 percent over the same time period. Just over a quarter (26 percent) of applicants considered part-time MBA or executive MBA programs in 2016.

School Reputation Remains Paramount
Almost three quarters (74 percent) of survey respondents cited school reputation, as measured by rankings, as the most influential factor in specific school selection, well ahead even of impact on career (48 percent). City/geographic location was cited by 46 percent as important, followed by school culture (38 percent), career placement stats (36 percent), alumni network (35 percent) and whether the program was perceived to be global (32 percent). Less consequential was the quality of the faculty (28 percent), the academic focus of the program (27 percent) or the likelihood of acceptance (22 percent). At the bottom of the list was admissions consultants’ advice, mentioned by just six percent of respondents.

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