Many prospective MBA applicants wonder how COVID-19 might affect the timing of their business school plans. While the world has never seen anything on the level of this pandemic, we can learn from those who weathered the global financial crisis of 2008 while pursuing an MBA.
Today, we’re sharing a Q&A with SBC consultant and INSEAD MBA Cathy. She considers her time at INSEAD a crucial inflection point in her career path. That’s why Cathy enjoys helping MBA candidates pursue their own ambitions for top MBA programs.
We’ve asked Cathy for her insights into pursuing an MBA in a moment of crisis. Also, we wanted to find out what advice she would offer to INSEAD applicants in particular. Here’s what Cathy had to say.
1. You decided to leave your Wall Street career in 2009 to attain your INSEAD MBA. Was the economic meltdown in 2008 a reason for your pivot to higher education?
Actually, I had been looking at MBA programs prior to 2008, as I had wished to advance significantly in my career. After doing my research, I knew that the right MBA could make all the difference in my career trajectory. So, I sought top-ranking MBA programs with whose culture and values I aligned.
It was a coincidence that I applied for MBA programs during the economic downturn. To outsiders, it might not have seemed the best decision to give up a well-respected position in a bulge-bracket investment bank to study, with no job guarantee afterward.
Maybe I was naïve, but my joy in getting into INSEAD outweighed my concerns. I was confident that the MBA itself would be a worthwhile investment, and I felt that it was the right timing nonetheless. So, off I went!
2. Do you feel that the economic downturn shaped your MBA experience in any way? For example, did you use the MBA education to find a career path that had more meaning or impact than your preceding finance career?
Since 9/11, I had wanted to do something more meaningful with my career. Pre-INSEAD, my goal was to enter social impact investing after graduating.
The economic downturn did reinforce the idea of pursuing a meaningful career, though. My INSEAD experience further encouraged me to do so, with its emphasis on its community being a “Force for Good.”
But, I never knew I would completely switch my career. Thanks especially to its supportive community and excellent entrepreneurship classes, I felt equipped to pursue a passion I’ve had all my life—chocolate!
Combining this with my belief in sustainability, I’ve worked with some of the best chocolatiers whose values aligned with mine, making a positive difference for farmers and the environment while making delicious chocolate.
3. Would you recommend that young professionals pursue an MBA in this current climate, with uncertainty around the world, and why?
Without a doubt. The MBA is more than the perfect place to gain the knowledge you need to advance in your career. It also provides you a community of outstanding, driven professionals – peers and faculty alike – where you can have those discussions, ask those questions, and be a resource yourself. It’s where great minds gather, where ideas are generated, and passions turn into reality. It’s very stimulating.
Having an MBA is particularly relevant in this current climate. MBA students and alumni are very well-known for innovating. Pursuing an MBA will enable students to come up with collaborative solutions in an uncertain world.
With a host of business, leadership, strategy and interpersonal skills under their belts, and a passion to change the world for the better, MBA graduates will be among those with the confidence and abilities to lead the way.
4. What application advice do you have for MBA applicants who are applying for INSEAD?
INSEAD places a strong emphasis on bringing together students from around the world. If you love international diversity and discovering new places and cultures, remember to clearly share that in your application.
Secondly, INSEAD has also been very strong on being a Force for Good. The school encourages each student and alumni to make a positive contribution in society, no matter which industry s/he is in. If you feel passionate about making a positive impact on the world, let that shine through in your application as well.
Thirdly, INSEAD looks for leaders, or future leaders, to lead these important changes, whether it’s in your hometown, country, an entirely different part of the world, or globally. If you’ve exemplified leadership, or possess entrepreneurship skills, include that in your application.
Finally, a bit of humility doesn’t hurt. The INSEAD community, while extremely accomplished, is also surprisingly modest and down-to-earth. If you’re confident, but not arrogant, express that in your application as well. INSEAD isn’t looking for overly confident applicants.
5). The intensity of the pandemic and issues of racial equality will influence the MBA experience. Do you think it will be somehow strengthened as a result of these issues?
Yes, definitely. MBA experiences themselves are meant to be transformative. What better place to be challenged, and to develop professionally and personally, than in an environment conducive to collaboratively resolving issues with sustainable solutions, and with creativity and intelligence? In the INSEAD community, the pandemic has already sparked constructive solutions to tackle the spread and even combat COVID-19.
So to answer that part of your question, the pandemic is already strengthening the MBA community and experience. Regarding issues of racial equality, these are the impetus for the important discussions that take place between cohorts and professors, faculty, and staff.
With the diversity that INSEAD embraces and embodies, I believe that each member is reflecting on these serious issues, doing the necessary research to understand more, and figuring out how it translates personally and socially into changed mindsets and consequent actions.
I believe the MBA experience is already being strengthened as a result of these issues, and I have no doubt that it will also positively impact the curriculum in the near future.