Correction: A quote from Derrick Bolton was previously incomplete, which may have misrepresented the fact that he does not believe applications to business schools increase due to the economy. Bolton also said the trend in business school application numbers is part of “a natural ebb and flow,” not – as the Daily originally reported – “a national ebb and flow.” Bolton said that law and medical schools do not like to disclose application volumes, not that business schools do not like to compare their application volumes to law and medical schools. The Daily incorrectly reported that last year the GSB experienced an admit rate of 6.8 percent. The GSB actually had an admit rate of 6.8 percent during the 2010 application intake, and a 7.0 percent admit rate during the 2011 intake.
Application numbers decreased this year for most of the top business schools in the country, including Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), which saw its application volume decrease by 8.13 percent during the most recent application cycle that concluded in April 2011.
Peer schools such as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harvard Business School also experienced drops in applications, according to data presented by Bloomberg Businessweek. The report found that Stanford experienced the largest drop among top 10 business schools.
“We’re down from a kind of all-time high,” said Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the Stanford GSB. “The context is important.”
Bolton said a look at the last 10 years reveals that, unlike undergraduate applications, business school applications have historically gone through cycles of growth and decline. In 2002, the number of GSB applications was 5,864. In 2005, the figure dropped to 4,582.
The most competitive years for those applying to the GSB were in 2009 and 2010 when applications reached 7,536 and 7,204 respectively, according to Bolton. Despite the drop from last year, this year was still the third most competitive year in the past 10 — the GSB received 6,618 applications.
“To me, there’s kind of a natural ebb and flow to the admissions cycle,” Bolton said.
He said when applications to business school rise, admission rates concurrently decrease, often deterring potential candidates from applying the following year because they perceive minimal chance of success. According to Bolton, the result is that application numbers fall the next time around, and admission rates eventually go back up, encouraging people to apply again.
Bolton said the GSB’s highly selective admissions process also affects this cycle in application volume. During the 2011 application cycle, the GSB had an admit rate of 7.0 percent — well below that of peer schools, partly due to the GSB’s small class size.
“Selectivity is a dual-edged sword in that it gives you the luxury of selecting a class, but it does have the unintended effect of scaring away some highly talented applicants that should be considering the program that maybe get a little daunted by the admissions rate,” he said.
According to Bolton, there has not been a strong correlation between application numbers and the current economic climate.
“You often hear people say, ‘Oh it’s the economy,’” Bolton said. “I don’t believe this, by the way, but this is what you will hear people say, ‘People apply to business school when the economy is bad.’”
Bolton added that there were better indicators to explain why application numbers fluctuate.
“Applications correlate better with census data than with economic data,” he said.
Over the last few years, there have been population decreases in areas of the United States and abroad where the GSB has typically seen large numbers of applicants in the past, according to Bolton.
According to Bolton, the recent drop in applications does not concern the GSB.
“It’s not a very important metric in the grand scheme of things,” Bolton said. “So when applications are up, that’s fine. When applications are down, that’s fine.”
“My real concern is what’s the quality of the class,” he said. “As long as we have 396 really bright, really energized, really thoughtful, really committed students, then we feel good.”
He said that a success of an application cycle for the GSB does not rely solely on what he called “fluctuating numbers” like application volume.
“We don’t define success based on number of applications,” Bolton said. “We define success based on the quality of the class, and then later, the impact the students have once they go out into the world.”