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Brexit and Trump: Making International MBA Applicants Rethink B-School

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What do Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump have in common? The recent referendum in the United Kingdom and election in the United States—while each unique in its own way—are similar in as much as they were both surprising resurgent populist victories reflecting a rise in nationalism stoked by anxiety around immigration. They have also both left prospective international MBA applicants unsure of whether to study in either country.

Recent surveys conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) set out to measure the impact of these events on business school study destination—finding significant percentages of international candidates less likely to study in England and the United States, respectively. Both surveys were conducted in November and December of last year.

The first, to measure the impact of the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union last June, was completed by 1,291 non-U.K.–based GMAT test takers who sent at least one GMAT score to a program in the United Kingdom in 2016. When asked what influence the vote had on their decision to study in the U.K., 45 percent of respondents said it makes them less likely to study there. On a country-by-country level, Indian candidates seem to have been most negatively influenced by the Brexit vote, with more than half (58 percent) indicating that it has made them less likely to study in the U.K. The United Arab Emirates followed, with 50 percent of respondents less likely. Other European countries rounded out the top five, with respondents from Germany 49 percent less likely; Italy, 47 percent; and France, 46 percent.

GMAC conducted a second survey over the same time frame, this time querying non-U.S. citizens registered on, the website for the GMAT exam. Of the 760 respondents to this survey, 37 percent said that Trump’s election has made them less likely to go to business school in the United States. These are obviously only early indicators, given that the survey closed on December 31, 2016, before Trump took office and before his controversial immigration ban.

Interestingly, GMAC found that those respondents with higher self-reported GMAT scores tended to be more negatively impacted by a Trump in the White House. More than half (51 percent) of respondents with scores above 700 said they are now less likely to study in the United States, as compared to 35 percent of those with reported scores between 600 and 690 and 27 percent for those scoring between 500 and 590.

GMAC noted that actual application behaviors may play out differently than indicated by these survey results. Of course, the political climate in each country may also further influence international applicants, either positively or negatively. GMAC plans to continue to track the issue as part of its annual surveys of application trends and prospective students.

Learn more about the GMAC Brexit/U.S. Election survey results here.