What a year!
Last January, deans and employers alike were asking the same question: Is the full-time MBA dying? After all, applications had been down, thanks to a turbo-charged economy and a wave of new graduate degree options. Come summer, applications surged as prospective students sought shelter from a pandemic that wreaked havoc on retail, real estate, and recreation.
It was surreal year, as professionals ditched their downtowns to huddle behind their laptops. Recognizing the risk – and sizing up an opportunity – business schools did the unthinkable. Some waived GMAT and GRE requirements. Others opened up to LSATs and MCATs. Many extended deadlines or offered deferrals. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School added 85 students to their usual class size; Harvard Business School shrunk by nearly 200 students. As always, a few brave institutions stepped forward to boost scholarships or hold the line on tuition.
A YEAR NO ONE WILL FORGET
What was the biggest change? Online learning became a powerful tool available to all. A year ago, the virtual platform was relegated to online MBA programs or MOOCs. Come March, business schools scurried to get their full-time MBAs online. A decade ago, business schools were plotting out $200 million dollar buildings that were rendered empty by the pandemic. As COVID spread, administrators were forced to rethink their priorities and allocations top-to-bottom.
In 2020, responsiveness and functionality became the differentiators.
It wasn’t always an easy transition for students, either. Online or hybrid – or even separated by plexiglass dividers – MBAs warily navigated a new normal, ever conscious of the shifting rules of engagement. Many worked overtime to forge bonds, supporting those who were separated by time zones or struggling to adapt. There was dissension, no doubt, as some students questioned the value of paying full tuition for an online experiment. A few times, groups took risks that inevitably boomeranged back on their classmates. In the end, MBA learned about disruption by experiencing its impact first-hand. That gives these classes a decided advantage. Come graduation, they’ll bring those rare tools – grit, empathy, and ingenuity – to proactively tackle the big problems and make an impact.
When 2020 began, COVID was just another virus plaguing a province across the world. A STEM designation was an innovation. Now, it is a prerequisite. Before George Floyd’s passing, social justice was an area where MBAs dabbled. Now, it is a business building block – a mission to pursue greater diversity and equity. In 2020, analytics and sustainability continued to gain traction, as data-driven models and long-term considerations increasingly guided decision-making. It was a year of contrasts: higher MBA pay undercut by lower placement and cancelled excursions smoothed by greater alumni engagement. In 2020, everyone worked harder and lived in the moment. Here, MBAs learned the most profound of lessons: nothing – health, loved ones, opportunities – can ever be taken for granted.
What happened in 2020 at your target schools? From Arizona State to Yale, here is a school-by-school breakdown of the biggest stories at the top MBA programs.
Looking for your favorite schools? You’ll find news collections on the following pages:
Page 2: C-G (CEIBS-Georgia Tech)
Page 3: H-I (Harvard Business School – Ivey)
Page 4: L-N (London Business School – New York University)
Page 5: O-W (Oxford-Washington University)
Page 6: W-Y (Wharton-Yale + Centre Court Admissions Director Interviews and Master’s Degree Guides)