MBAs for the Highly Educated

Even people who already hold master’s degrees in other subjects often think it’s a good idea to get their MBAs. 


Even people who already hold master’s degrees in other subjects often think it’s a good idea to get their MBAs, according to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Findings from GMAC’s 2017 Prospective Students Survey Report show that the MBA is the predominant program format considered by 61 percent of candidates who have prior master’s degrees in business and 86 percent of those who have master’s degrees in nonbusiness fields,

The report further shows that, globally, 22 percent of prospective business school candidates have a prior master’s degree, with considerable regional variation. While two in five European candidates have prior master’s degrees, the same is true of just 14 percent of U.S. candidates. The report uncovered other key findings:

There’s still demand for non-MBA master’s programs in business. In 2016, across the globe, 23 percent of potential candidates were considering business master’s degrees, compared to 15 percent in 2009. Those numbers were particularly high in Southeast Asia and Western Europe. Candidates interested in non-MBA master’s programs in business tended to skew younger and have less work experience than those looking at MBA programs; they were also focused on developing their technical skills, according to the research.

Demand for international study remains strong, as 59 percent of prospective b-school candidates in 2016 planned to apply to programs outside their home countries. Of those, 63 percent were seeking higher-quality education, 58 percent hoped to secure international jobs, and 51 percent wanted to expand their international connections.

The U.S. is still a popular study destination—but not as much as it once was. While 58 percent of those looking to earn an MBA abroad said they preferred to study in the U.S., that number was down from 61 percent in 2009. There was a similar drop among non-U.S. candidates seeking a business master’s degree other than an MBA: In 2016, only 47 percent of them wanted to study in the U.S., down from 57 percent in 2009. Many of them have shifted their preferences to Western Europe (34 percent in 2016 versus 30 percent in 2009), Canada (7 percent in 2016 versus 4 percent in 2009), and East and Southeast Asia (7 percent in 2016 versus 4 percent in 2009).

Some of those preferences might have been influenced by politics. Anticipated changes in U.S. immigration policies and last year’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom may make it more difficult for non-citizens to obtain student visas to study in those countries or to obtain work visas after. Since Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S., the number of non-U.S candidates who say they are less likely to study in that country has grown from 35 percent in November 2016 to 43 percent in April 2017.

There has been a similar reaction in the U.K. Among nearly 1,300 non-U.K. GMAT test takers surveyed last December, 45 percent indicated that the Brexit vote made them less likely to study in the U.K. Indian candidates are the most negatively affected by the Brexit vote, with 58 percent reporting that it has made them less likely to study in the U.K.

Candidates are still worried about costs. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said that not having enough money to pay for their education might prevent them from pursuing a graduate business degree; 47 percent said the fear of taking on large amounts of debt might stop them.

The survey analysis is based on responses provided by 11,617 individuals who registered on between February and December 2016. To download the report, visit