Covid-19 rages on. The more it sinks the global economy, the more worried would-be business school applicants get.
That’s what the data shows in a new survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council. In a May 6 post at the GMAC Advisor blog, Rahul Choudaha, GMAC’s director of industry insights and research communications, writes that a survey of more than 1,000 B-school prospects shows that the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 has “amplified the concerns of candidates in a period of a few weeks,” with those saying they are “very” or “extremely” concerned about the job market rising from 13% in mid-March to 35% by the end of the month, then to 41% by mid-April. The level of concern was greatest for MBA candidates: 53%, up from 13% in mid-March; and internationals — those whose preferred study destination is not their country of citizenship — were more worried than domestic candidates, 51% to 48%, respectively. (See table below.)
Are the concern levels likely to have gone up since April 15, which is nearly a month ago? Choudaha notes that because the rate of increase slowed between the second and third periods in the snapshot, candidates for graduate management education may be normalizing the disruption of the pandemic and adjusting their views accordingly.
“By definition, in times of economic uncertainty, we are less tolerant of risk,” Choudaha tells Poets&Quants. But, he adds, “based on history, this is where we can potentially see an increase in demand for graduate management education, as an advanced business degree provides an ability to mitigate risk in the immediate short-term while providing a long-term annuity of tangible and intangible returns over time.”
INTERNATIONAL CANDIDATES MORE LIKELY TO CONSIDER DELAY IN APPLYING
GMAC’s analysis is based on 1,141 responses to the Prospective Student Survey collected between March 4 and April 15. The sample is primarily composed of prospective students who are actively applying (25%) and who are currently researching programs (36%); nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) reported that they are planning to enroll in a graduate business program within the next year.
Concern is one thing, but is the coronavirus pandemic causing respondents to actually consider a delay in their pursuit of a graduate business degree? Overall, the proportion of candidates who say that waiting is an alternative increased from 17% on March 15 to 44% on March 31, and reached a peak of 51% on April 15. “After a sharp increase in consideration of this alternative in the initial snapshot period, the percent increase has stabilized,” Choudaha writes.
International candidates (26%) were more likely to report delaying pursuit of graduate management education as an alternative as compared to domestic candidates (7%) by March 15. Over the next two periods, the proportion of international candidates considering delay continued to increase, from 47% by March 31 to 56% by April 15, while stabilizing for domestic candidates: “Initially,” Choudaha writes, “only 7% of domestic candidates were not considering delaying pursuit of GME; however, that dramatically shifted over time, growing to 43% by March 31, before stabilizing to 46% by April 15.”
‘COVID-19 HAS CLEARLY PLAYED THE ROLE OF DISRUPTOR’
While delay is a consideration for many, coronavirus isn’t changing candidates’ long-term aspirations. “Overall,” Choudaha writes, “the proportion of candidates reporting no longer pursue GME as one of the alternatives due to the impact of Covid-19 was less than 10% — increasing from 3% by March 15 to 8% by March 31 and remaining at that level through April 15.”
“GMAC research has shown that career acceleration and diversification is a the core for people who choose to pursue graduate management education,” says Choudaha, who joined GMAC in March after years as a U.S.-based international education expert and blogger whose analysis of international student trends has been featured in such media outlets as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the BBC.
“Covid-19 has clearly played the role of disruptor, both through its impact on the classroom as well bringing the global economy to a halt. However, while communities are working through those challenges, a positive takeaway from our data is that aspiration for management education remains high, perhaps slowing timelines for certain candidates, but not their motivation to do good through going to business school.”
Meanwhile, B-schools with strong online platforms and programs are better-prepared for what comes.
“Business schools are working hard to meet the needs of not just their prospective students, but current students and alumni who are also facing challenges in the current environment,” Choudaha says. “From a course offering perspective, business schools who were already offering robust online programs are in a better position to scale those more quickly, as schools adjust to what has become a virtual environment.”
The different testing landscape is unlikely to be a major factor, adds GMAC’s Vineet Chhabra, senior director and head of the Graduate Management Admission Test product, despite GMAT’s temporary move to virtual. “Demand for the GMAT Online has been strong as candidates work to meet specific B-school admissions deadlines, a driving force behind our bringing the interim solution to market,” Chhabra tells P&Q. “It was important for GMAC to provide candidates and schools with a solution that allows them to discover and evaluate each other in what remains a predominant virtual environment.”