At Fortuna Admissions, we love to keep a finger on the pulse on what is happening in the world of business education. I recently polled my colleagues to find out what they think 2024 has in store on the MBA front, and I also peered into the crystal ball in a recent Business Casual podcast conversation with Poets & Quants’ John Byrne and Maria Wich-Vila, as we took a close scan of the MBA horizon. Here are some trends and shifts we expect to see in 2024.
AI will make continued inroads in education
Artificial intelligence emerged from the realms of research and burst on the scene in a big way in 2023 with easy-to-use applications available for personal and public use. AI will continue to make a dramatic transformation in higher education, including admissions, over the coming year and beyond. Exactly how this will play out in the long-term is a huge unknown.
Applicants and recommenders almost immediately seized on ChatGPT and similar tools to help generate essay drafts and letters of recommendation — often with less-than-optimal results, in our experience. Conceivably, admissions offices at business schools may adapt some automated tools to help with the massive burden of reading and evaluating thousands of application packets. It’s easy to imagine schools training AI systems to do a first read and summarize applications or batch them based on given criteria.
I expect we’ll see the impact of AI in other areas of admissions as well:
- Schools might make increasing use of video submissions. Aware that essays can now easily be drafted or written with a chatbot, programs are likely to require videos that are harder to game with AI assistance. Video questions that simulate an interview experience show how you think on your feet, giving a more direct, authentic sense of “the real you.” We may see more video questions incorporated into the interview process as well.
- We’re also likely to see increased focus on the importance of ethics in the MBA curriculum, given the concerns AI raises.MBAs will be expected to use these efficiency-boosting tools in the workplace, so classes will adapt to cover the ethical, intellectual property, and privacy concerns involved.
AI offers a great deal of promise for enhanced productivity and service, so business schools will certainly embrace and teach these tools. I’m just hoping we won’t have robot masters by this time next year!
Applications will be up and recruiting strong
In terms of the application cycle, I think top-tier MBA programs will see slightly more applications in the current 2023–24 cycle than they did in 2022-–23. For the 2024–25 season, our best guess is stable admissions volume.
With the economy stable and inflation headwinds abating without a recession, the jobs outlook for MBA grads is good. We’re probably looking at a better recruiting season ahead for 2024 grads than the 2023 classes faced.
Class profiles may shift ….
It will be interesting to see the impact of the Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action. Business schools remain committed to diversity, but the ruling has created considerable uncertainty about exactly what is now permissible in terms of admissions office practices. We expect to see some shifts in the class profile at top US schools; the representation of some minority groups is likely to diminish.
The experience of underrepresented MBA students who are admitted to MBA programs may change as well. Fortuna coaches who have had many years of experience with limits on affirmative action policies in California and elsewhere expect that financial aid and support programs offered based on race or identity will come under attack and may be curtailed.
…. and the culture warriors are coming for DEI
Clearly, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are under growing and vocal political pressure at universities across the nation. In the uncertainty and divisiveness of an election year, attacks on educational institutions are likely to get worse. The claims of the culture wars are used to strike fear into the electorate and mobilize voters, so there will be no dialing down of the heat in 2024. However, schools are determined to honor their DEI mission and will continue to push forward with this, albeit in the face of increased pressure.
This is likely to affect business as well. Although there is plenty of research that shows that firms with more diverse workforces and leadership outperform others, we are seeing rhetorical shots fired across social media as Elon Musk and Mark Cuban argue this point.
A decline in international student applications?
We saw a slump in applications to US business schools from international candidates during the previous Trump presidency. Trump’s re-election would likely again have a deterrent effect and make it more difficult to attract international candidates. If that does transpire, it would certainly be a loss for business schools and the campus community, as all MBA students would have a less global, less diverse class to learn from.
In 2024, we expect to see a few trends in MBA program format and focus:
- Schools will continue to shift away from traditional two-year MBA formats towards more varied and flexible options that are common now in Europe. This will likely not affect the elite, top-ranked programs, which will continue to see strong demand. We expect to see this shift more beyond the M7.
- The number of dual and joint business degree programs will continue to grow as more schools introduce specialized master’s degrees. However, this brings with it the challenge of building brand recognition. With so many different degree options, the landscape has grown confusing for both candidates and recruiters, while the traditional two-year MBA degree still benefits from brand recognition.
- There will continue to be more blending of online and in-person teaching. This has been more heavily concentrated in part-time MBA programs. Since all programs moved their courses online during COVID and all instructors made that transition, the impetus toward hybrid models is stronger.
- Sustainability will continue to be more deeply embedded in the curriculum. Schools like INSEAD are leading the way on this. INSEAD has overhauled its curriculum to embed social and environmental issues and how they impact business decisions into every aspect of the core curriculum. INSEAD Dean Francisco Velloso has talked about how businesses are having trouble translating their sustainability goals into business practices and need leadership and expertise in that area. INSEAD’s curriculum is changing to prepare the school’s graduates to address that. In my experience this also reflects a greater awareness of and concern about the climate crisis in Europe than in the US.
- Business schools will need to adapt in other ways to prepare business leaders for uncertain times and vast, complex global challenges. Chaotic geopolitical forces —conflicts, humanitarian crises, environmental crises, inequality —are showing no signs of abating.
- Finally, in 2024 we should see a new director of admissions appointed at Stanford GSB. Stanford has struggled to fill this post, which has been vacant for over a year; and we’re hearing on the grapevine that the school is hoping to hire a Stanford graduate (the previous director was an HBS alumna).
So it should be an interesting year ahead in many ways. One thing is for sure – in 2024 as before, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dynamic, capable, go-getting crowd than you’ll find on a business school campus. So if you are ready to embrace the challenges of the future and want to surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s a great time to apply to business school!