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Harvard Business School Application Rates Decline, Reflecting National Trends

The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus.
The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Business School’s MBA application rate declined by roughly 6 percent in this year’s application cycle, reflecting a decline in application rates visible at business schools nationwide.

Harvard Business School received 9,228 applications in the 2018-2019 cycle, compared to 9,886 applications during the 2017-2018 cycle.

Chad Losee, the admissions director at the business school, attributed the decline in application rates to a change in the school’s admissions policy in a blog post earlier this fall. The Business School held two rounds of applications during the past admissions cycle, compared to three rounds of applications in previous years.

Losee wrote that the Business School received 9,335 applications in 2017-2018 if the third round admissions cycle was excluded from the data.

“This is the apples-to-apples number to compare with the 9,228 applications we received in 2018-2019 without Round 3,” Losee wrote.

The Business School’s admissions office declined to comment for this article, referring The Crimson to Losee’s blog post.

The decline in application rates at the Business School reflects trends at business schools across the United States. The 2018-2019 cycle was the fifth consecutive year in which application rates have declined at American business schools, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT admissions test to business school applicants.

Geoffrey Basye, the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s director of media relations, attributed the decline in domestic applicants to a “cyclical” pattern of business school applications during periods of economic health.

The U.S. gross domestic profit has grown for the past 124 consecutive months, constituting the longest recorded economic expansion in American history, according to the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“When there’s upswings in the economic cycle, there’s a perceived opportunity cost of leaving your job, and, you know, going to grad school is expensive,” Basye said. “There’s opportunity cost when people are gainfully employed.”

Basye said that increased competition from international business schools also likely played a role in the decline in applicants to American MBA programs.

“The United States, our data shows us it’s still the most sought-after destination for Business School — people still want to come here,” he said. “It just no longer has the market cornered, as schools continue to emerge in places like Spain and China and Germany and France.”

Basye added that concerns regarding American immigration policy also likely played a role in the decline in international applicants to U.S. schools.

Contentious debates over immigration policy have featured prominently in American political discourse in recent years.

“When you look at the political rhetoric, when you look at our current approach to immigration and how we’re distributing visas, our data says that four out of every 10 international students looking at the U.S. for business school have concerns about employability when they’re done. They have concerns about safety and security,” Basye said.

In late August, an incoming Harvard College freshman was denied entry into the U.S. by immigration officers when he attempted to come to Boston to begin classes. His visa was eventually restored 10 days later after administrators and his lawyer got involved.

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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