Uncertainty about how and when the coronavirus pandemic will be resolved means that newly admitted MBA students may feel conflicted about whether to proceed with their plans.
For students who intended to start business school this fall and who wanted to attend an on-the-ground MBA program, doubts about whether in-person classes will be feasible in the fall is leading some to reassess whether now is a good time to pursue an MBA.
A Poets & Quants survey released in March revealed that about one-third of more than 300 students admitted to top MBA programs were contemplating deferring their education.
The reality, business school experts say, is that a choice about whether to forge ahead with MBA studies in the current climate could be a difficult judgment call for students whose lives have been upended by the virus. Experts encourage students to consider their individual circumstances and preferences.
“The decision to attend or defer hinges on which motivations are driving the potential student’s decision to attend, and the stability and trajectory of the student’s current job,” Jenna Hess, a Chicago-based career coach, wrote in an email.
Hess, former associate director of employer development with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, notes that many prospective MBA students desire an MBA degree because they believe it will facilitate a career change or allow them to increase their compensation. For students with this mindset who have been laid off, whose current job is at risk or whose career prospects are stunted, this could be “a good time to attend” an MBA program, Hess suggests.
Even if these students must take online versions of MBA courses that are ordinarily taught on campus, they can cultivate marketable skills while they “hopefully ride-out the worst of the economic disruption,” she explains.
However, Hess recommends a different course of action for students who are satisfied with their employment situation. “If the potential student feels good about their current job stability, and is prioritizing building a powerful network of business-minded peers and friends and immersing themselves in the culture of the business school and campus, then it would make more sense to defer admission (if possible) until there’s more certainty around the return to the full on-campus experience,” she says.
Some MBA alumni and faculty suspect that the quality of a person’s MBA experience may suffer without in-person interaction with classmates and professors.
Layton J. Cox, a 2020 graduate of the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, suggests that the decision about whether to defer or proceed with an MBA program this fall should depend upon whether that program will be delivered in-person or online. Cox says in-person interactions are a vital component of a traditional MBA program.
“A good MBA surrounds you with amazing people who have large dreams of their own,” Cox wrote in an email. “As your life progresses, you’ll find it is the people that you met and befriended during your MBA that really provide value to your life. If you can’t have face-to-face interactions to build relationships with your MBA classmates, your MBA is a waste of time and money.”
Cox, whose final set of MBA courses were delivered virtually because of the pandemic, says he strongly preferred in-person instruction. “Zoom Calls aren’t the same as an in-person lecture,” he wrote. “Pre-recorded videos can’t take the place of sitting with the professor and asking questions.”
Bruce Bachenheimer, a clinical professor of management with the Pace University Lubin School of Business in New York City, suggests that admitted MBA students account for the type of MBA program they were accepted into when determining whether to enroll or postpone their study plans.
“When considering a top tier MBA program, interactions among one’s cohort, academic and social, is absolutely one of the most valuable aspects of the program and I would recommend deferring admission until traditional classes and regular activities are certain to resume,” Bachenheimer wrote in an email. “For other programs, where there is not necessarily a strong cohort model, chancing a semester of remote learning is not as consequential. This would especially be the case for part-time programs.”
In contrast, some experts say the time is right to begin an MBA program regardless of whether fall courses are taught online or on campus because of the recent severe economic contraction.
“When the economy was soaring, MBA applicants were more hesitant to leave their secure, well-paid career paths,” MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman wrote in an email. “At this time, many career paths are tenuous and so the opportunity costs for the MBA investment are lower — discounted by the current realities of the coronavirus impacts.”
Chris Healy, head of MBA marketing and recruitment with Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, suggests that before choosing to defer, admitted students should clarify whether they will be guaranteed a spot in a subsequent class if they decline to begin their MBA studies this fall. Furthermore, admitted students who were granted scholarships should inquire about whether they are guaranteed to receive similar funding for their education if they defer, Healy says.
David Setley, director of the MBA program at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylania, notes that an admitted student whose employer currently offers tuition reimbursement should also consider the possibility that this benefit could be rescinded in the near future due to the bad economy. Therefore, MBA hopefuls whose companies do offer tuition reimbursement should consider capitalizing on that benefit while they have access to it, Setley says.
Stephanie Bryant, executive vice president and chief accreditation officer with AACSB International — The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, says that if an MBA degree is the natural next step in someone’s career trajectory, they should take it as soon as possible, assuming no formidable obstacle stands in their way. She suggests that, because an MBA typically increases earning power and accelerates career progression, it’s in a candidate’s best interest to obtain the degree as quickly as possible.
Because MBA programs typically last two years, those that begin virtually due to the pandemic can gradually transition to in-person learning, Bryant emphasizes. Therefore, students enrolled in traditional two-year MBA programs that begin this fall should expect to eventually experience an on-campus learning environment, even if they can’t do so right away, she says.
“I think an MBA is one of the best investments you can make if you are career-oriented,” Bryant says. She warns that people who postpone going to B-school might not end up attending at all if they reach a life stage where it’s challenging to devote time to school.
In fact, Bryant suggests, MBA hopefuls who choose to attend an MBA program now when others are delaying their studies may have an opportunity to attend a more competitive B-school than they would under normal circumstances.
Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.
More from U.S. News
What to Know About Getting an MBA During the Coronavirus Pandemic originally appeared on usnews.com