4 Factors Shaping MBAs Today

The MBA as “Golden Ticket” has lost some of its currency in our present economic landscape, but Business Week points out four things you can count on.

1. Competition for slots will be fierce

Classes won’t become super-sized to accommodate the application surge, so admissions will be ultra competitive and fewer applicants will get in. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) saw an 11% increase in the number of GMAT tests taken this September compared with 2007.

If getting in has become harder across the board, students will likely apply to more schools to increase their chances. With a fatter stack of applications to choose from, middle-tier schools could shock prospective students with rejection letters they didn’t expect.

2. Loans for international students are evaporating

With the credit crunch, student loan programs are disappearing overnight. This fall, Citibank canceled its CitiAssist loan program, which leaves many international students high and dry unless they have lived in the U.S. or have a co-signer here.

Once they have that MBA degree, a weak market means international students will have to really stand out among job applicants if they hope to obtain a scarce H1-B visa. With the deck stacked against them in the United States, more students will apply to B-schools in their own countries.

3. Quitting a job is risky

Putting aside a lucrative career to attend business school has always given potential students pause, especially during an economic slump. Traditionally, students who quit jobs at the start of a recession graduate with an MBA when the economy is in an upswing. But no one is able to predict with certainty how long this recession will last.

Erin Nickelsburg, admissions director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business, tells BusinessWeek that predictors of the “opportunity cost” of going to business school in a downturn have been skewed by the apparent end of big salaries and juicy bonuses in investment banking. Still, Nickelsburg warns that opportunities could be missed, as well. “Not making an investment in yourself can turn around and haunt you when the economy goes back up,” she says.

4. The learning is still valuable

As today’s business schools create case studies based on the Wall Street debacle, no one doubts that what you learn in an MBA will be extremely valuable when the economy steadies.

Students may need to adjust their career goals and possibly their salary expectations, though. “This is a good time to park yourself in an MBA program and build up your portfolio of intellectual capital,” says David Wilson, GMAC’s president. “Graduates will emerge in two years or so and be in a different market.”

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