Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of graduate management education programs experienced a rise in female candidate applications in 2020. Comparably, in 2019, only 41% of programs did, according to a recent Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) study.
Part of the “mba.com Prospective Students Survey,” which included responses from over 1,000 participants from July to December, analyzed the motivations and career aspirations of female candidates pursuing a graduate management education on both a local and international scale. Looking specifically at female candidates, the data was divided into study destinations and program types.
“We at GMAC are highly committed to not only helping the schools and all stakeholders understand the diversity of our candidates, but also offer tools and resources which can help bridge that gap,” said Dr. Rahul Choudaha, director of industry insights and research communications at GMAC.
The focus on career advancement plays a factor into the recent growth of female applicants.
“When the unemployment is so high, then the competition for good jobs is even higher,” said Choudaha.
For 84% of prospective females, having the opportunity for a promotion or advancement was rated “extremely or very important”, while 85% agreed that a graduate business degree stands out on a resume, the survey found.
Employers have higher confidence in individuals with a graduate management education due to their ability to communicate and versatile skillset that allows them to adapt to changing work environments and manage the technological disruptions, said Choudaha.
“That’s where the real value is,” he said. “How do you differentiate yourself in the job market to really [add value] to your employer because you are bringing the skills which are so unique?”
Outside of career advancement, 90% of female prospective students value job happiness, according to the report.
For half of domestic and one in three international female candidates, COVID-19 changed their original graduate management education plans.
For example, domestic female candidates gravitated towards attending business schools closer to their home or pursuing an online education. On the other hand, virtual learning was unfavorable among international female candidates, the survey reported.
As for planning for a graduate business education, more than half of the female candidates began contemplating the option during either their high school or undergraduate years. While 32%, considered the additional education after two years in the workplace, the survey found.
Career goals varied by program types and study destinations.
For domestic Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and business master’s female candidates, their top career goal was to earn a raise. On the other hand, international MBA female candidates aimed to work outside their country of citizenship.
The study also analyzed financial differences.
For female business master’s candidates, 41% of funding for the program stems from their parents. However, for international MBA female candidates, one-third of the funding comes from scholarships, fellowships or grants, while 39% of the domestic candidates’ budget comes from personal earnings and savings, the study found.
Institutions must recognize the differences between the two programs, according to Choudaha.
“MBA candidates come with more experience,” he said. “Their motivations could be driven by career growth and acceleration as compared to business master’s candidates who are younger and pre-experienced. They are looking to launch their career.”
Understanding the diversity of female candidates allows for institutions to develop engaging recruitment and enrollment strategies.
“The key thing is that those variations and differences need to translate into this customized communication,” he said. “The generic messaging and communication strategies are definitely something that does not work very effectively anymore.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.