Making The Case For Business School, Right Now

Andrew Ainslie, Dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business

Let me start by introducing myself. I am the Dean of the Simon Business School, at the University of Rochester. It has been my privilege to lead Simon for 6 years, and during that time I have been unapologetic about advocating for the value of a business school education. That led me to write this several years ago.

However, we are now living in a very different world than we were a mere three months ago and we’ve just seen the very beginning of both a huge health crisis and a topsy-turvy market for both employers and employees that can have devastating effects on many Americans and world citizens. And at the same time, I continue to believe that there is no other Master’s degree that offers the incredible ROI that business school does and will continue to offer both during and after this crisis. The world has never needed strong business leadership more.

The world is enmeshed in the biggest crisis it has faced since the 2nd World War. Universities all over the world have had to rethink how we run our schools over and over again, as we try to find a way to provide the best possible outcomes for our current students, and enroll students for our classes next year. Like so many other schools, we at Simon were fortunate that our students and faculty took a positive attitude to the challenges, and made lemonade out of lemons.


There are many very scary aspects of what is occurring around us – we all know people with health issues that predispose them to risk with COVID-19 that perhaps have even already been diagnosed as positive; we will soon know people (if we don’t already) that are unemployed, furloughed or have been laid off, and every day we read with disbelief the stories of overloaded hospitals and shut-down industries. In the midst of all this, we have an obligation to our students, our alumni, our faculty and our staff as we meet new challenges head-on every single day. This is a challenging time for business schools, and it’s just as challenging for people considering attending one of our programs. 

This weekend, I read with great interest the results of the recent survey on Poets&Quants of prospective students all over the world. The numbers are sobering. I, along with every other business school dean, have a strong incentive to convince people to apply to graduate school this year. But I’d like to propose to you the idea that this is actually an extraordinary one-time opportunity for anyone considering doing an MBA.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • There are questions as to what the earliest date is that a foreign student could get a visa. Almost certainly, they will have to do their first few classes online. Hence, foreign applications will probably drop.
  • I get how much people value in-person education. It’s one of the reasons why I personally have been a consistent advocate for residential programs. And yes, that will also reduce the demand for an MBA this year, as there is very real risk that some classes will initially be online.
  • It‘s scary to take on additional debt in a difficult economy. This will also reduce demand this year.


That is what is behind the results of the survey. International students are worried about the visa process. Students want the networking advantages of spending time in person with their classmates and question their willingness to pay full sticker price for an online experience. It’s really tempting to wait out a year and do the MBA next year instead.

But what does that mean to those brave enough to do an MBA? It means that they will get into a far better program than they ever could have before. If you could only get into the 100th ranked school, maybe now you can get into the 50th ranked. If 50th, perhaps now the 25th. If 25th, perhaps top 15.

My advice to anyone considering doing an MBA is: go against the grain. Apply now, and apply to schools that a year ago you couldn’t dream of getting into. That means that even if you already have a few applications in place, apply to a couple more of your dream schools that were unattainable for you a year ago. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to get an extraordinary education, develop leadership skills and network with alumni in industries you’re interested in.


Here are a few other thoughts on reasons why you should go to business school this year:

  • The standard thinking for decades has been that the best time to do an MBA is when the economy is down. It’s an excellent time to be on the sidelines of the labor market, just to come out the other side with excellent skills and a larger network into a growing economy.
  • Nobody wants to run their entire full-time MBA online. We all want to give students that full experience. While there is some chance that one semester will be online, the majority will still be in-person with all the advantages that brings.

Is this self-serving? Perhaps, but that doesn’t detract from the truth of the argument. And in the interim, my team and I, along with every other business school in the world, are doing our best to prepare for every eventuality. We will provide those willing to join us in the next academic year with a fantastic experience. I started this piece by saying that our mission is to our students, staff, faculty and alumni. That is true both in good times and in bad. And we will be there for those who see the opportunity that this difficult situation offers. When this is all over, the world will need great business leadership more than ever.


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