Deliberating the impact of COVID-19 on MBA Education. Is it worth it for you to apply to business schools this season, or next?

Deliberating the impact of COVID-19 on MBA Education. Is it worth it for you to apply to business schools this season, or next?

To begin, I hope that you, your families, and your friends are well. During these trying times, I pray that you are safe and come out on the other side of this pandemic stronger than before.

Across popular MBA news platforms and forums, growing concerns about business school and the future of MBA education are fueling discussions. Travel and visa insecurities are driving up deferral requests by incoming students, therefore hinting at low yield. Most schools have delayed R3 and final round deadlines to May and June.  GMAC and ETS have launched at-home online GMAT and GRE testing, albeit with mixed reviews. And many top schools including Kellogg and Darden have altogether waived off testing requirements. Rumors also exist that many tier 2 and 3 schools are in hot waters with regard to filing classes and experiencing difficulties. There is no doubt that the current situation has had an impact on everyone.  With this brief article, I hope to provide my interpretation of how COVID -19 will affect 1) placements, 2) program delivery and 3) admissions.

Placements

Given that many organizations have halted hiring, and that millions have lost their jobs, there are concerns around the health of the job market in America, the destination of choice, for the most part, for MBA hopefuls. Arguably, this is a good time to re-skill.

There is historical precedence that the beginning of recessionary periods is a good time for education because time taken by the economy to recover can be used effectively to develop abilities that will be of value when the market bounces back. Those who do not develop additional capabilities now may struggle in the future and lose out to competition that is at the forefront of new thinking.  Unlike labor markets, organizations cannot and do not spend time playing catch up. They have to compete irrespective of the environment and win or lose. In the innovation age, systems can become outdated even before they can be executed and hence, employers do not have the luxury of providing employees long learning curves. They will hire those who are most relevant, and those who can immediately contribute.

I know many international students who gave up the American Dream in 2008/09 during the housing crisis, only to find a rich job market in 2011/12; this was likely the right time to catch the tide low, when tech companies were growing, and hiring. Also well known is that economists who study the future of work frequently recommend education as a path to economic prosperity. Data science, digital technologies, and cross-cultural acumen are skills that will be in demand in the future. Also, I have always held the belief that specialization, whether it is function or industry, will be the order of the day. I am not saying that generalist skills are not valuable – they are, but as you navigate your career, consider diving deep in marketing analytics, taking a course or more in applications of AI/ML, learning a foreign language, and gaining exposure to work in an international environment such as Asia or Africa. Fortunately, the MBA is well designed for such learning.

I am confident that any kind of formal education, even a Masters or a PhD, will at this stage be favorable to your career in the future. Careers in or related to automation and robotics, virtual work and communications, digital entertainment and education, integration of home and workspace, data security, and healthcare will be sought-after. Services and products that reduce human contact, such as food delivery, are also likely to be hot.

Program Delivery

There are concerns around the value or price tag of the MBA, and how education will be delivered. The MBA is a premium, expensive and professional degree program, and business schools are well aware that experiential learning, group work, industry outreach and networking opportunities are important elements amongst its offerings. While schools will take advantage of digital learning technologies, not all coursework will go online. If that happens, demand for education will fall, and schools’ ability to charge a premium will be lost. In the long and short run, I feel there will be no impact on the quality of delivery. If at all, schools will blend the best of learning practices in both digital and classroom to create an experience better than ever before. 

Evolution, any which way is inevitable; top business schools regularly revamp their programs to offer the latest in management thinking and through the best delivery channels. As examples, MIT is successfully running blended programs through EDX, and Harvard offers many courses through its well-received HBX platform. Best practices from these platforms, and others, will eventually make their way into MBA programs, and I am sure schools have been thinking on these lines for quite some time now.

Trivia: almost all schools in the top 18 have invested millions in state-of-the-art facilities – these facilities are designed for social interaction.

Admissions

At the top schools, I foresee a very competitive year ahead, given that many students have deferred and postponed their plans this year. For schools not in the top 10, getting in may be easier than before. The current situation in America is tipping the scales – if an attribute for a product becomes less attractive, another attribute has to become more desirable for the product to remain attractive. So if the prospect of an American education is becoming less attractive to you because of underlying current insecurities, it has to be compensated by a better brand. Hence, more people will aim higher.

Nonetheless, for those who value a global brand on their résumés over other attributes, such as a degree that could generate opportunities anywhere in the world, this is still a good time to apply. Even if you view yourself as a Silver or Bronze candidate – with a lower GMAT and work experience in a less well-known company, or if you are someone who is still contemplating an MBA, consider taking the plunge now. I am positive you have a shot at the top 20. Management education is an American concept; it is here to stay.

Every candidate is unique, and a detailed analysis can only be done by taking into consideration your situation, background and interests. To move out of the uncertainty of where you stand in the scheme of placements and job opportunities, to invest in your future the right way, now is the time to give a hard look at your opportunities for the future. We are a boutique firm, and work with no more than 50 candidates for each season. We provide our clients unlimited consulting hours and promise a deep and meaningful engagement. In case you wish to discuss your profile or learn more, give us a call!


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