In A Banner Year For MBA Graduates, China And India Have Never Mattered More

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By Matt Symonds


Based on starting salaries and job offers, 2018 should be a banner year for the world’s top MBA programs. Columbia Business School is the latest in a growing list of schools whose Class of 2018 hit a new salary record this year, with a 5.7% increase in total median compensation to $155,248. Chicago Booth graduates aren’t far behind with a 3.5% increase to $149,750, while Harvard MBAs secured a record $160,268 in total first-year compensation, largely supported by a $5,000 rise in median base salaries.

The good news is not limited to the M7 schools. The UVA Darden Class of 2018 is also reporting a strong increase in jobs accepted, salary and signing bonus, with an average base salary of $127,767 and an average signing bonus of $35,430. And at Georgetown McDonough, the average starting salary of $116,946 is a 4% increase from the previous year. The average signing bonus also increased 9% to $31,036, and 98% of students who were seeking employment reported receiving a job offer within three months of graduation, up from 93% in 2017.

The MBA Class of 2018 is also spoiled for career choice as finance, consulting and tech compete for top talent. Financial services increased recruiting at Wharton this year, attracting 36.9% of the graduating class compared to 32.7% in 2017. Finance also bounced back at Booth, overtaking consulting as the #1 destination for Chicago graduates.

Elsewhere consulting remains the leading career choice, with McKinsey, Bain and BCG (MBB) continuing to recruit in large numbers at the top schools, and Accenture and the Big Four of Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and EY not far behind. For the first time ever Columbia MBAs took more positions in consulting (33.6%) than in finance (32.2%), while in Evanston McKinsey, Bain and BCG hired 90 of Kellogg’s 558 MBAs, with 30% of the Class of 2018 getting ready to enter the world of Slide Decks Presentations.

But tech hiring continues to rise at business school campuses across the country, led by Amazon that hired about 1,000 MBA graduates last year and has lost none of its appetite in 2018. With two new headquarters to fill in New York City and Northern Virginia, the electric commerce and cloud computing company is often among the top five employers in this year’s Career Reports of the leading business schools. Amazon is joined by Google, Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Facebook among 64 different tech companies who recruited a record 28% of Kellogg’s Class of 2018. That figure is matched at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which saw close to a 50% increase in tech sector hiring as more Fuqua students headed to the West Coast than ever before. Average starting salaries for Fuqua MBAs were also on the rise, showing a 4.9% increase from last year to $155,100.


So why are MBA applications falling?

With so much strong career news around you would expect MBA admissions offices to be overwhelmed with demand. But the slump in applicant volume last year looks set to continue for the 2018/19 admissions cycle, with many of the Dean and Admissions Directors who attended the CentreCourt MBA Festival in September expressing concerns about a continued downward trend. The buoyant US job market has made the opportunity cost of a return to school ever greater for the millennial generation, and the number of GMAT test takers in the US declined by 3.1% in the last five years.

It is the steep fall in international demand that has really dented application volume, notably from India and China. Until two years ago it looked like nothing would interrupt the flow of applications from Asia, with rising demand in New Delhi able to offset a decline in New York. GMAT test takers in India have increased by 6.5% since 2013, and Chinese GMAT test takers rising by 6.8% during the same period. But the political upheaval in the U.S. in the last two years has seen young professionals from Mumbai to Shanghai rethink their business school plans.

Anxious about the uncertainties that surround H1B visas and the ability to work in the U.S. after their studies, or brewing trade wars, Indians and Chinese business school applicants are looking beyond America for their MBA and specialized Masters plans. While GMAC reports a 10.5% drop in international applications to business schools in the United States, volume is up by 7.7% to schools in Canada and up by 3.2% to schools in Europe. And many Asian applicants are now looking at study options closer to home, with schools in Asia Pacific enjoying an 8.9% increase in application volume.

For Caroline Diarte Edwards, former Admissions Director at INSEAD and cofounder of Fortuna Admissions, a leading admissions consulting firm that works with MBA and Masters applicants in over 120 countries, the changing geographic focus among the global applicant pool has been noticeable. “While our team of former Admissions Directors and Associate Directors from 12 of the top 15 U.S. schools is kept very busy with the R1 and R2 deadlines from Boston and Philadelphia to Chicago and Palo Alto, we have seen a sharp rise in the number of international enquiries that are now setting their sites on the top European and Canadian business schools. The shorter MBA course length at INSEAD, IMD, HEC Paris, Cambridge Judge and Oxford Saïd appeals to many, but the two-year programs at LBS, IESE and Toronto Rotman are equally popular."

"Applicants tell us that they are hesitant about the political climate in the U.S., and unsure of their ability to secure a job to stay in the country after the MBA. The excellent MBA Career Reports from the Class of 2018 couldn’t come at a better time to ease some of those concerns.
China and India have never mattered more to business schools

For European, Canadian and Asia Pacific schools, they have a golden opportunity to strengthen their market share and make a compelling case for pursuing an international MBA or Masters. IE Business School has seen the number of Indian candidates grow exponentially in their programs over the past decade. "We value diversity and are committed to getting the best candidates to our programs in Spain," explains Karan Gupta, Director of the school's India office. "India is a unique market where we have witnessed high potential candidates who resonate with our ethos. The continued interest in our MBA stems from the fact that Indian candidates are willing to invest their time and resources in a high quality education that would propel their career in the right direction."

The importance of the Indian market is shared by the top US business schools. "As a driver of the world economy, it is critical that we enroll exceptional students from India, provide Darden students and our faculty with opportunities to understand India, study what is happening in India today, and engage with leading companies and organizations working in India," asserts Marc Johnson, Senior Executive Director for Global Affairs and Enterprise Initiatives at The Darden School of Business. "We see exceptional students coming to Darden from India, succeeding in the classroom and community, and going on to great jobs in the U.S. and all over the world. Theyare leading firms both in India and globally, whether it is in entrepreneurship and venture capital, multinational firms, family businesses or other settings. These Darden alumni are having an impact at home in India and abroad through their leadership."

For US institutions, the coming two years are critical to reassure the Asian market about the warm welcome students receive, and the excellent return they will get on the investment in their studies through exciting new career options and a supportive global network. Speaking on an Admissions Director Panel in New York, Columbia’s Admissions Director, Michael Robinson summed up the current challenge. “When we are on the road we are definitely seeing more anxiety on the part of applicants as to how welcoming the U.S. is; more anxiety as to can I stay in the US post-MBA, will it be more difficult for me to obtain a visa and so on. If you look at the outcomes our students are still getting great jobs, but as an administrator you still have to deal with those realities. The political rhetoric has not been helpful.”

In addition to Information Sessions and MBA Fairs, a key component for schools to combat misinformation and share positive student outcomes is a successful international media strategy. For Ken McGuffin, Media Relations Manager at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management the relationship with the press is essential, and he is among a number of the leading business schools heading to Mumbai in January 2019 to meet with journalists from The Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV, Financial Express and other leading Indian media at the MaKi Business School Media Conference.

“The Rotman School has enjoyed a long and rewarding relationship with India which runs deeper than just attracting great students to our programs. Our faculty, students and staff travel frequently to India for study tours and course work as well as to connect with our alumni and potential candidates for our programs.”

Darden faculty and students also head to India to learn, study and engage with this dynamic business hub. "We know that India will shape the future of global growth and business landscape for years to come," says Marc Johnson, "and as a school we have to be meaningfully engaged with and learning from what is taking place in India today."

For Ken McGuffin, meeting reporters and editors face to face is an essential component of the school’s outreach, not only to share details of positive MBA outcomes for Indian students, and details about new specialized graduate programs such as the Master of Managerial Analytics, but also the chance to showcase the extended ties between the two countries. “In Toronto, we are the frequent host of speakers from India including Nandan Nilekani and most recently Arun Jaitley, the Indian finance minister.“

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