updated 8/7/2006 1:10:25 AM ET 2006-08-07T05:10:25

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 Monday.

Major Market Indices

About two-thirds of full-time MBA programs saw their applications increase in 2006, compared to just 21 percent who reported an increase 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 more students are applying to graduate business programs, because individual applicants could simply be applying to more schools. But other GMAC data suggest more are registering the GMAT business school entrance exam that 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 forego earnings to return to school.

But GMAC's president and CEO, David Wilson, said the economy is now healthily balanced, and 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 a graduate is going to get a job."

Much of the increased demand is coming internationally, with three-quarters of U.S. programs reporting an increase in foreign applications. But growing competition from overseas also affects U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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