As Covid Worries Decline, Interest In Getting An MBA Heats Up

The pall over graduate business education from the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to dissipate, according to the findings of a new GMAC survey.

Vaccinations are increasing exponentially across the U.S. and the globe, and states are beginning to open up. Lockdowns are beginning to loosen (though many fear it is too soon). And MBA students and MBA candidates are champing at the bit.

That’s the undeniable conclusion from two new pieces of recently revealed evidence. Last week, Poets&Quants reported on an online poll by a prominent admissions consultant which strongly suggests that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic won’t be the negative force in the 2021-2022 application cycle that those working in graduate business education once feared. Now comes corroboration, from an even more authoritative source: The Graduate Management Admission Council today (March 30) released its massive Prospective Students Survey Report, and it, too, shows accelerated demand for graduate business degrees in 2021 amid declining concerns about Covid-19.

A trove of data on how prospective students perceive remote learning and preferred study destinations, GMAC’s report shows that interest in graduate business education is on the rise as concerns wane about the impact of coronavirus — one is going up while the other goes down. The proportion of respondents reporting that they are extremely or very concerned about Covid-19 declined from 41% to 33% over the survey period, from July to December 2020. Meanwhile, two vital populations are signaling heightened interest in higher business education: three in four (73%) international candidates planning to pursue an MBA outside their country of citizenship say they are not changing their original plans despite the pandemic, and women are indicating their willingness to pursue a graduate business degree regardless of whether the instruction is partly virtual.


University of Michigan’s Soojin Kwon

The Prospective Students Survey is based on data collected on a monthly basis between July and December 2020 from a total of 2,515 individuals worldwide who indicated plans to enroll in a graduate business program in 2021.

The report contains reams of data on candidate attitudes that admissions officers in U.S. business schools in particular will find edifying. Among the highlights:

  • International candidates still prefer mobility over online: Over 40% of international candidates surveyed report working outside their country of citizenship as the primary career motivation. Opportunity to live and work abroad explains why international candidates (70%) are more likely to report that they are not changing their original plans compared to domestic candidates (52%) amidst a global pandemic.
  • International candidates continue to look to the U.S. as one of their top three choices to study business abroad. Prospective students from India rank the U.S. their top choice, ahead of their home country, while those from Canada and the UK pick the U.S. as their first international destination. Prospective candidates from Greater China identify the United Kingdom (27%) as their preferred study destination, followed by the United States (21%) and Singapore (12%). Rising tension between the US and China in recent years may have discouraged prospective Chinese students from coming to America for their advanced degrees, coupled with the growth of high-quality business school programs in China and the Asia Pacific region.
  • More candidates are considering an MBA or other graduate business degree to upgrade skills amidst Covid uncertainties. While more than half of prospective candidates (58%) confirmed that they “always plan to pursue a graduate business degree at this point,” over a third of the prospective candidates (37%) reported that they are seeking a graduate business degree now because they “want to apply for a job but lack required skills and/or degree to be competitive.” The accelerated demand for graduate business education may be a result of the fact that more candidates recognize the need to emerge out of a shaky economy more career ready.

“Covid-19 has fundamentally disrupted the future of work and the skills that are required for future success,” says Soojin Kwon, managing director of the full-time MBA admissions and program at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and a GMAC board director. “This is something that business schools are fully aware of and adapting to as candidates seek to upgrade their professional and leadership skills to meet the demands of the rapidly changing workplace. ”


Where do women stand? Once again, it’s complicated

Even though studies have suggested that women have felt the brunt of the pandemic hardest, GMAC’s new report finds that many female candidates are willing to change their plans for higher education based on the realities on the ground. They are flexible about options and not unkindly disposed toward completing a high proportion of their degree virtually.

“Specifically, women candidates are more likely to seek the flexibility of online learning than men,”GMAC reports. “They are willing to accept a higher proportion of their degree to be completed online and are more likely to agree that career opportunities gained through an on-campus graduate business degree are the same as those gained through an online degree.”

“As vaccines become increasingly available, prospective students around the world are seeing light at the end of the tunnel regarding the global pandemic,” says Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and CEO. “It is especially encouraging to find female candidates seeking advanced business degrees for career advantages despite the unique challenges and barriers they face due to COVID -19.”

Source: GMAC

See more data from GMAC’s 2021 Prospective Students Survey on page 2.

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