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GMAC Survey Finds Many MBA Applicants Have Master’s Degrees

GMAC has released their 2017 Prospective Students Survey Report, finding that while business master’s programs continue to rise in popularity, many master’s recipients later go back for MBAs.

As expected, GMAC found that master’s and MBA degrees tended to attract different kinds of candidates. Master’s applicants tend to be younger, with less work experience, and they tend to be interested in acquiring more specific technical skills.

Meanwhile, MBA applicants are older on average, and they’re more likely to want to develop more general skills in leadership and management.


While this finding fits with the conventional wisdom that master’s and MBA degrees serve unique functions, more surprising was the survey’s finding that people who receive business master’s degrees often go back for MBAs later in their careers.

In fact, the survey found that about one in five people applying to business school already have master’s degrees. About half these applicants have master’s degrees in business, while the remainder have degrees in fields like engineering, science and the social sciences.

Of those applicants who already hold master’s degrees, about three in four are considering MBA programs. A third of them are also open to enrolling in non-MBA graduate business programs.

These numbers suggest that many people who receive master’s business degrees ultimately decide to return for additional degrees as they progress through their careers. Some follow up with another master’s degree, but going back for an MBA seems to be most common.

Still, specialized non-MBA master’s degrees seem to be rising in popularity. GMAC’s survey found that the portion of business school applicants interested exclusively in master’s degrees has gone up from 15 percent in 2009 to 23 percent.

This trend has been especially strong in Western Europe and in East and Southeast Asia, where over 40 percent of applicants are applying only for master’s degrees.

That said, the MBA remains the go-to option for business school candidates. Worldwide, 49 percent of applicants are interested only in MBA programs, a number that has held more-or-less steady from 52 percent in 2009.

Overall, these findings are consistent with the idea that the master’s and the MBA serve different functions and that which one is right for you depends on your level experience and the type of skills you want to acquire.

In the end, it’s not necessarily a choice between one or the other. The GMAC survey shows that a master’s can just as easily be the beginning rather than the end of one’s business education journey.