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‘The Window’ Closes: Acceptance Rates At The Top 50 U.S. MBA Programs

·7 min read

Acceptance rates and class sizes shrank in 2021 at most of the top B-schools in the U.S., while yield grew

The Covid-19 pandemic offered a window that gave applicants slightly better odds to get into a reach school.

The window now appears to be closed.

The conclusion is hard to avoid. Acceptance rate, yield, admit, and class size data from the recent release of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report ranking of U.S. MBA programs show that across the top 52 business schools, 35 heightened their selectivity rates — including 21 of the top 25 schools — as most admitted fewer applicants and shrank their class sizes.

Responding to the heightened difficulty in securing a coveted spot in a premier program, the percentage of admits who enrolled in the school that accepted them — yield — went up at nearly all the top schools. Forty-five schools saw yield increases, including eight of the top 10, a year after 44 schools — including 23 of the top 25 — reported declines in yield. This year, 18 of 51 schools saw double-digit yield increases.

10 SCHOOLS WITH ACCEPTANCE RATES BELOW 20% AND 27 BELOW 30%

The lowest acceptance rate in 2021 — and one of the lowest on record — was, not surprisingly, at Stanford Graduate School go Business, which admitted just 6.2% of applicants last year, down from 7.2% in 2020. Nearly all who were fortunate enough to get into Stanford leaped at the chance, as reflected in the school’s astronomical yield: the school’s highest level on record, 93.6%, up from 82.3% the year before.

Following Stanford in acceptance rate were MIT Sloan School of Management at 12.1%, Harvard Business School at 12.5%, Columbia Business School at 15.7%, and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business at 17.6%. In all, 10 schools reported acceptance rates below 20% (compare that to just four schools in 2020), and 27 schools were below 30% (compared to 18).

The highest acceptance rate in the Poets&Quants top 10 was at Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, at 29.5%; the highest in the top 25 was at Georgetown McDonough School of Business, at 48.1%, though Emory’s Goizueta Business School, ranked 26th, was higher at 53.1%. Across all 52 schools we examined for this story, Fordham Gabelli School of Business, ranked No. 51, had the highest acceptance rate, at 67.1%; Brigham Young Marriott School of Business had the highest for a top-50 school, at 60.7%, followed by Utah’s Eccles School of Business (57.6%) and Miami Herbert Business School (57.3%). The lowest rate in the lower 25 was at Arizona State W.P. Carey School of Business, at 16.8%, followed by Penn State Smeal College of Business (18.6%) and Rochester Simon Business School (21.9%)

Boston University’s Questrom School of Business saw the biggest decline in acceptance rate, down 17.4 percentage points from 51.3% to 33.9%. In the top 25, Michigan Ross School of Business saw the most significant decline, down 16.8 points to 20.2% — one year after having the biggest jump of any school.

See the next pages for complete data on acceptance rates, yield, applications, admits & class size at the 50 leading MBA programs in the United States.

TOP 10 B-SCHOOLS: APPS KEEP CLIMBING, ADMITS DROP

At the top 10 schools, which includes the vaunted M7 schools, applications slowed but continued their upward trajectory while other measures returned to a more normal state of affairs. Average acceptance rate across the 10 dropped to 18.4% from a pandemic high of 22.3% in 2020, lower than 2019 but still higher than 2018 and much higher than 2016, before the first rumblings of an application slump began to worry adcoms across graduate business education.

The worries are over, and the elite schools are narrowing the pathway to admission. Cumulatively, they reduced their number of admits by more than 16%, to fewer than 10,000 from more than 11,000 in 2020. Stanford admitted nearly 200 fewer; Harvard nearly 400; MIT more than 500. Enrollments also fell, though not so dramatically.

Sensing the window closing, admits said "yes" more frequently, bumping up the collective yield at the top 10 by 18.5%, though it is still down by more than 11% since its peak of 64.9% in 2018. See above for details.

BIG JUMPS IN YIELD AS MORE STUDENTS SAY 'YES'

Yield is a funny thing. Schools don't like to talk about it, and U.S. News doesn't report it in its annual trove of rankings data. But it's a good measure of the state of affairs in graduate business education. High yield means a school can enroll the students it wants; low yield means they have opted to go elsewhere, or nowhere, instead.

After Stanford's astronomical yield of 93.6%, the next highest in 2021 were BYU Marriott at 84.4%, Harvard at 82.7%, and Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business at 81.8%. Both Marriott and Manderson have unique programs: BYU is affiliated with the LDS church and conduct of homegrown Utah talent, while Alabama has a STEM pathway program that funnels students from its undergraduate ranks into the MBA. Harvard — well, it's Harvard.

Besides the four schools with yields above 80%, five others were above 70%, and nine above 60%. Twenty schools out of 52 were above 50%. In 2020, that latter number was just 10.

The lowest yield in the top 10 was at Yale School of Management (38.2%), and the lowest in the top 25 at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management (35.7%). In the entire top 50, Emory Goizueta, at No. 26, was the lowest at 34%, with Maryland Smith School of Business close behind at 34.2%.

While the biggest increase in yield at any school occurred at Stanford, which grew its yield 26.6 percentage points in one year, the biggest decline occurred at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, which dropped to 48.4% from 56.2%.

CLASS SIZES SHRINK Y-O-Y, BUT ARE UP FROM 2019

Class sizes shrank year-over-year at most schools, growing at only 22 of 50 (compared to 28 of 49 in 2020), but they have grown at most top-50 schools since 2019. Blame the Covid effect again: In the last two years, only 11 schools out of 49 are below their class sizes from 2019, while 33 are up and two are exactly even. The biggest drop in that time occurred at Columbia Business School, which has lost 140 seats; in the last year CBS actually lost more, going from 782 to 614 seats. Also notable: Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business dropped 50 seats over two years, to just 65 in 2021.

Many schools have increased enrollment, of course: Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business more than doubled the size of its MBA from 40 to 82 in one year, and Harvard, after enrolling its smallest-ever class in 2020, made up for the big drop-off and then some, eclipsing its 2019 size by enrolling the only class of more than 1,000 in the top 50 ranking. Also noteworthy is that across three years, Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business has increased the size of its cohort by 71 seats, to 178. (See page 5 for more enrollment data.)

And the smallest classes? In the top 10, that distinction belongs to Berkeley Haas, with 291 students enrolled in 2021 (with Dartmouth Tuck close behind at 294); in the top 25, Washington Foster School of Business is smallest with 126 MBA students; and in the top 50, Florida Warrington College of Business has just 26 students in the fall 2021 cohort. Unusually small? Yes, but small itself isn't unusual: 20 schools out of 51 have fewer than 100 in their MBAs.

See the next pages for complete data on acceptance rates, yield, applications, admits & class size at the 50 leading MBA programs in the United States.

Stanford GSB's is the hardest MBA program to get into, by far

Penn State Smeal College of Business had the lowest acceptance rate in the lower half of the top 50 in 2020, and the has the second-lowest in 2021

The Atrium at Boston University's Questrom School of Business
The Atrium at Boston University's Questrom School of Business

No. 41-ranked Boston University's Questrom School of Business saw the biggest decline in acceptance rate in 2021: 17.4 percentage points, to 33.9%

Columbia Business School has reduced its MBA enrollment by 140 seats since 2019

The Marriott School of Management is ranked 33rd among the top 100 U.S. business schools by Poets&Quants.
The Marriott School of Management is ranked 33rd among the top 100 U.S. business schools by Poets&Quants.

The Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah had the highest yield of any school ranked in the lower 25 of the top 50: more than 84%

DON'T MISS LAST YEAR'S STORY ON ACCEPTANCE RATES & YIELD AT THE TOP 50 MBA PROGRAMS and GMAT AVERAGES REBOUND BIG-TIME AT THE TOP 50 MBA PROGRAMS

The post ‘The Window’ Closes: Acceptance Rates At The Top 50 U.S. MBA Programs appeared first on Poets&Quants.