Doing an MBA during COVID-19: Why now is the best time to go to business school

Published: 16 October, 2020 15:35 IST | A correspondent |

In past crises, MBA graduates built resilience and adaptability, which helped them land unconventional roles and remain relevant in a dynamic business landscape

"At times of great change, it is natural to return to school…" - Jonathan Levin, Dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business

From April to June this year, India's GDP fell by 23.9 percent. By August, the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that white-collar job losses hit 6.1 million. Young professionals facing the possibility of stalled promotions and career uncertainty may not prioritise a business degree at this time. However, as business practices change, career aspirations need to adapt to future expectations. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that future managers need to be nimble, focused on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, and prepared to lead a digitally connected workforce.

Figure 1 Source: GMAC Application Trends Survey

The GMAC application trends survey indicated that full-time MBA applications in 2008 increased by a record 10 percent over the previous year. In past crises, MBA graduates built resilience and adaptability, which helped them land unconventional roles and remain relevant in a dynamic business landscape.

As we look ahead from six-seven months of lockdown into the next admissions cycle, the following changes will impact applicants.

Flexible Admission Criteria

Many business schools have adopted more flexible admission policies–going test optional, extending application deadlines and enabling deferrals where required. These changes have already resulted in double digit growth in applications for full-time MBA programmes starting in Fall 2021 and increased class sizes. While Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management saw 5,813 Round 1 applications for their fulltime MBA programme, a jump of 54 percent year-over-year, Columbia Business School reported 6,971 Round 1 applications, an 18.6 percent increase over 2019 after extending their Round 1 deadline by 51 days.

Applicants with bachelor’s degrees in STEM-related fields, professional certifications or with analytical work experience have a significant advantage in this new situation. When GMAT test centers shut down, a number of schools, including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and The University of Texas-Austin’s McCombs School of Business, began offering test waivers for applicants directly affected by the pandemic. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business has made the GMAT and the GRE test-optional (subject to certain conditions). Emory University’s Goizueta Business School has made GMAT and GRE scores optional for applicants to its evening MBA programme, saying they are ‘unnecessary barriers’ for working professionals. Other business schools, such as Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business, now accept the GMAT Executive Assessment scores. Sue Oldham, Associate Dean of Admissions explained the decision was “…an inclusive move to allow our applicants to submit their most competitive test score as a part of their application."

New Ways of Adding Value

The pandemic is also pushing business schools to innovate and leverage resources in new ways. Many are investing heavily in technology to deliver experiences beyond classroom broadcasts. Whether it’s the ability to attract exceptional talent remotely or leverage expertise of influential alumni, now students not only gain a more diverse range of business expertise during their business school experience, but they also have access to insights on decision making during this crisis. Below are some notable examples.

  • The Stanford Graduate School of Business capitalised on alumni relationships to create summer internships during the hiring freeze. Stanford alumnus and Zoom founder, Eric Yuan participated in an online lecture series to talk about the five-fold revenue growth Zoom will see by the end of this year.
  • Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, in March, hosted a professional development series for their MBA class by tapping into a wide range of domain expert faculty members and alumni. 
  • From June 2020, Michael Roberts, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s award-winning professor and researcher, led a 12-part series with faculty from the business school’s world-renowned finance department. These additional virtual interactions have allowed MBA students access to discussions on reviving economies post the pandemic by professors who have spent entire careers studying and interpreting financial trends and data.
  • Jonathan Levin, Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business, spoke of continuing to advance longer-term priorities with a ‘Beyond COVID’ taskforce, composed of alumni and faculty, to identify new opportunities for the school to leap ahead in virtual education and lifelong learning.

These are compelling reasons for young professionals to consider applying for an MBA in Rounds 2 or 3, taking advantage of schools’ plans to extend deadlines for these application rounds. Potential applicants need to create a strong case for themselves in what looks to be the most competitive admissions season ever.

Author Bio:

Written by Namita Mehta, who has been in the college counselling space for more than eleven years. She established the University Guidance Counselling Department at B.D.Somani International School in Mumbai before joining The Red Pen where she currently serves as President.

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