Is A Pandemic-Age MBA Worth It?

Is A Pandemic-Age MBA Worth It?

The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the MBA experience upside down.

Back in March, as countries announced shutdowns and restrictions to tame virus transmission, business schools switched to online and hybrid modes. In fact, many are continuing these learning models into the fall semester and next spring. While applications haven’t necessarily suffered (in fact many have increased), one thing hasn’t changed: the high cost of an MBA degree. Across many top b-schools, total cost for the degree can come in at more than $100,000.

That reality of high cost and a new virtual classroom environment has left many wondering: Is the MBA still worth it?

Paul Sullivan, of The New York Times, spoke to b-school students and experts to answer just that question.


A P&Q analysis of tuition, room-and-board, fees, and other costs at top MBA programs found that the total cost of an MBA has topped $200,000 at a dozen b-schools in 2019.

But that cost typically doesn’t include the lost opportunity cost of not working for two years while enrolled in an MBA program.

“The M.B.A. is a high-touch program, and covering our costs means we charge pretty high tuition,” Jonah Rockoff, an economist and senior vice dean of curriculum and programs at Columbia Business School, tells NY Times. “I always teach my students the biggest cost of the M.B.A. is the opportunity cost of giving up two years of income and career advancement.”


While the cost of the MBA has increased over the years, the pandemic has forced b-schools to adapt in how students learn and interact.

With many introducing hybrid or virtual models, many students interviewed by NY Times say the effectiveness of such learning models typically depends on the course itself and how it’s delivered with larger core lectures being less effective and smaller courses being more effective.

“Keeping your concentration going for three hours on Zoom, particularly if you have other classes, is hard,” Vishesh Garg, a second-year student at Columbia, tells NY Times.

Others say the lack of a physical environment to connect is a problem.

“Part of the beauty of going to class was the serendipitous encounters,” David Arteaga-Caicedo, a second year at Yale University’s School of Management, tells NY Times. “Here, you’d go to class and then have to leave immediately.”

Networking and connections are key selling points of an MBA. And with virtual and hybrid learning models, those have definitely been impacted. But global travel study programs are also being affected.

“I was hoping to take advantage of international connections and the travel programs our school offers,” Mercedes Li, a student at Columbia Business School, tells NY Times. “I don’t see any of those happening before I graduate in the spring.”

Perhaps, one silver lining of the pandemic’s effect on the MBA experience is the very idea of overcoming challenges and barriers.

Garg, the student at Columbia Business School, describes himself as introverted. He says the pandemic has pushed him to get out and make a greater effort in forming connections.

“It’s a lot about being proactive,” Garg tells NY Times. “I’ve been grabbing coffee with people. It takes a lot of effort. There are some days you don’t want to do it. But then you realize you’ve been home for three days and haven’t seen anyone.”

Sources: The New York Times, P&Q, P&Q

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