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Would-be MBAs are facing more competition

Survey also finds rise in starting pay

There was sharper competition to get into business schools this year, with MBA programs reporting increased applications to both full- and part-time programs, according to a study to be released today.

About two-thirds of full-time MBA programs saw their applications increase in 2006, compared to just 21 percent in 2005, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. About two-thirds of part-time and executive MBAs -- programs designed for older students with more work experience -- also saw increases.

The trend doesn't prove that more students are applying to graduate business programs, because individual applicants could simply be applying to more schools. But other council data suggest more are registering for the Graduate Management Admission Test business school entrance exam than last year, and those who do are sending their scores to fewer schools, which boosts the case that more people are applying.

Demand for MBA slots can be countercyclical, because people often try to attend business school during a downturn, hoping to graduate when things pick up. When the economy is extremely hot, people may be unwilling to forgo earnings to return to school.

But the council's president and chief executive, David Wilson, said that the economy is now healthily balanced and that the job market for MBAs is strong.

A survey by the group released in May found the average starting salary for MBA graduates rose 4.2 percent to more than $92,000.

``There were more recruiters coming to campus, and there were more offers than they had the year before," Wilson said. ``One of the real drivers for registration and test-takers is evidence on the back end [that] a graduate is going to get a job."

Much of the increased demand is coming internationally, with three-quarters of US programs reporting an increase in foreign applications. But growing competition from overseas also affects US programs, with 62 percent of programs outside the country also reporting an increase.

In Europe, 61 percent of GMAT test-takers sent their scores to US programs in 2001, but last year only 47 percent did.

``You're seeing significant players in Europe," Wilson said. ``The same in India, China, Thailand. You're starting to see a real global marketplace out there, where people are thinking of going to schools other than in the US."

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