The application season at most of the top business schools in the United States is now closed or closing fast. Many are looking ahead to the next cycle that begins in the fall and wondering how coronavirus might continue to confuse the process. A new poll by a leading admissions consultant that offers a window into the thinking of thousands of mostly international prospective MBA applicants shows a willingness to brave the ongoing conditions — for the right opportunity.
Last fall, Sameer Kamat, founder of admissions consulting firm MBA Crystal Ball, wrote about the doubts many potential applicants were having amid the raging worldwide pandemic. Was it the right time to go for an MBA? Was coronavirus shaping candidates’ plans, or altering them significantly, and was that itself cause for worry? And perhaps most importantly from an applicant’s standpoint: Was coronavirus making it easier to get into a top school?
Now, seven months after the article was published, Kamat and MBA Crystal Ball have revisited some of those questions with a new poll, presenting MBA aspirants with a range of options including admission to a top MBA program without scholarship help, admission to a mid-ranking program with a partial scholarship, and admission to a low-ranking program with a full ride. The poll conducted on both LinkedIn and YouTube received 2,300 responses, mostly from international candidates, with more than half — 53% at LinkedIn and 54% at YouTube — preferring admission to a top program with no financial assistance. Meanwhile, though a third of respondents indicated they would be happy going for a school with a decent ranking with some financial aid, very few were interested in attending a low-ranking school even if it meant not having to worry about paying for it — and between 11% and 12%, respectively, said they were still inclined to wait until the pandemic was entirely in the past.
“We wanted to see how business school applicant sentiments may have changed 1 year after the world was hit by Covid-19,” Kamat, author of the best-selling book Beyond The MBA Hype, tells Poets&Quants. “The general belief is that many candidates would either defer their plans, or aim for programs where their odds of getting scholarships is high. But the results from over 2,300 respondents — predominantly international applicants — surprised us.”
A DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE IN THE U.S.
High-profile kerfuffles may have skewed views of the quality of MBA instruction in a (temporarily) virtual world. But around the same time Sameer Kamat’s story was published, P&Q ran a piece laying out the case for seeing coronavirus as a window of opportunity, rather than a wasted year to sit out. Among many points in the MBA degree’s favor: Starting salaries for graduates of top programs continue to rise, and the economy that students graduate into in a couple of years is certain to have shed the effects of the pandemic.
Moreover, when it comes to international interest in U.S. programs, the ouster of Donald Trump last November was seen as certain to reassure foreign MBA aspirants about the political and cultural welcome they could expect in America, a fact reinforced in recent Bloomberg Businessweek coverage. U.S. President Joe Biden has done nothing to undermine that renewed confidence.
Any way you slice it, this remains true: 2019-2020 was one of the best cycles in years for U.S. B-schools. And several top B-schools have indicated, without yet providing data, that 2020-2021 will continue the positive trend.
EASY TO SAY YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT SCHOLARSHIPS WHEN ENROLLMENT IS SO FAR OFF
Sameer Kamat and MBA Crystal Ball created the new poll after a spike in the number of applicants approaching the consultancy during the recently concluded MBA admissions season. “We were keen to find out if that was an anomaly, or if we could expect a similar trend in the coming season,” he tells P&Q.
However, he points to caveats to the poll results.
“While many may have chosen an elite program regardless of the financial aid status, most respondents are still in the planning stages and looking mostly at the best-case scenario,” Kamat says. “I’d think reality hits home closer to the time when applicants get admits and it’s time to work out the financing. That’s when the decision-making gets trickier.
“Over the years, we’ve seen several MBA Crystal Ball clients struggle with the dilemma of choosing a higher-ranking program with no scholarship versus a lower-ranking program that’s easier on the pocket. When it’s no longer a hypothetical choice, the decision is far from being a no-brainer, as the survey results might suggest.
“Some aspiring to get into the top-tier consulting firms, investment banks, and private equity firms choose the elite B-school. Others aiming for careers where the B-school branding isn’t a make-or-break criterion prefer taking up the B-school that makes the ROI look much better. So I’d suggest readers take the poll results with a pinch of iodized salt.”