COVID affected MBA applicants profoundly in 2020 and continues to do so as we enter the home stretch of this admissions cycle. It seems there’s nothing like a pandemic to spark interest in going to business school.
In recent years, mainstream business publications have suggested that the MBA degree has lost its luster. But the deputy dean of Yale School of Management, Edieal Pinker, puts to rest any doubts about the degree’s relevance today.
The traditional two-year degree remains vital, he recently told The Economist. After all, he asks, “Do you think the problems the pandemic created for society and the economy are narrow specialised problems or complex ones that cut across sectors and disciplines?”
Many of the applicants we’ve recently met feel the same. They say they need the sophisticated knowledge from a top MBA program to navigate the dynamic business changes ahead. MBA aspirants look to the degree to gain vital tools and frameworks to thrive in the radically-changing business landscape.
MBA demand is countercyclical to the economy, as we witnessed following the 2008 financial crisis. Many young professionals view the MBA as an escape from unemployment or furlough status. The career visions we have heard from recent applicants range from inspiring to jaw-dropping. Many view the 2023 and 2024 MBA class as symbolizing new beginnings and hope.
How Has COVID Affected MBA Demand Long-Term?
We predict the 2020-2021 application cycle will set records for interest in the top MBA programs. Also, the applicant pool’s caliber with respect to diversity, leadership, industry, and career visions will skyrocket.
The MBA degree seems to have emerged stronger from the pandemic. “Students held up and schools stepped up,” Sangeet Chowfla, head of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), tells The Economist.
According to GMAC’s global survey of more than 300 business schools, 66% of MBA programs reported a rise in applications.
Likewise, SBC has witnessed year-after-year growth in demand across our client pool—even when the US economy was at its pre-pandemic peak. That’s because our clients are focused on only the very top US and EU programs.
When the economy turns around—which may take several years—we will see overall application volumes decrease. However, we also anticipate significant interest in the most elite business schools.
Recruiters favoring MBA grads to solve complex problems will always drive demand for top-ranked MBA programs. Schools have already pivoted in innovative ways to help students confront radical, pandemic-induced changes to business and the economy.
Corporate recruiters told GMAC that 89% planned to hire MBAs in 2021, up from 77% last year.
We’ll likely see an even stronger preference among employers for MBA graduates who have trained to navigate rough waters.
Additional Influences on MBA Demand
Demand for US-based business schools took a hit due to the strict immigration measures imposed by President Donald Trump. International interest in US MBA programs will likely surge because of the Biden administration’s friendlier immigration policies.
As we shared with Find MBA, Biden’s presidency will give an enormous sense of relief to higher education applicants both domestic and international, as well as college institutions and educators, all of whom value an inclusive and global student class.
Geographic hubs of major MBA employers, such as tech companies based in Silicon Valley, also influence where MBA applicants apply. And with Brexit now finalized, we may see its impact on MBA demand geographically, too. MBA applicants must weigh their priorities and make adjustments as needed.
Standing Out When Competition is Fierce
Anyone applying to a top MBA program in the US or Europe must prepare themselves for stiff competition. The key is to know your niche relative to the applicant cohort in which you’re competing. You must:
- Define the industry in which you are competing. Identify industry strengths and vulnerabilities.
- Identify the ways you are unique relative to your industry applicant pool. Find an angle that is current and engaging, as well as authentically aligned with your identity and passions.
- Showcase strengths through an overarching framework. Highlight your differentiating features throughout every application component.
To overcome the odds, follow this advice shared by Meghan, a former Wharton Lauder admissions officer on the SBC team. “Share a unique/ interesting/ personable set of stories in your MBA applications, in support of a reason why you would be a great addition to the MBA incoming student class,” she recommends.
COVID affected MBA plans adversely for many incoming students in 2020—especially international students. But, with in-person instruction anticipated for fall due to vaccine availability, the future looks bright for those entering in 2021.
With the economy on the upswing, we expect to see strong recruiting for 2024 graduates. All of these factors make 2021 an ideal time to pursue an MBA degree.