Business schools are reporting a surge in applications for MBA programs, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

In a worldwide survey of more than 500 schools offering MBA programs, 77 percent said they had received more applications for full-time study this year, up from 64 percent last year, the McLean, Va.-based non-profit group said. That's the second-highest increase in the number of applications in eight years, the group said.

This year alone, a record-high 246,957 prospective students took the Graduate Management Admission Test, an MBA admissions requirement.

The number of applications also increased for part-time and executive programs, which are typically aimed at students with prior career experience.

"Going to business school is one of the best ways to improve your marketability and expand your options anytime, but especially in this challenging economic climate," Dave Wilson, the group's CEO, said in a statement.

Wilson said the sharp increase showed more budding entrepreneurs are recognizing the value of investing in an MBA.