Has Covid-19 dampened the appeal of the master of business administration? Is a sea change underway that will lead to specialized master’s degrees gaining even more popularity at the expense of the MBA?
New evidence suggests that the answer is … not yet.
In its latest online poll, consultancy MBA Crystal Ball found overwhelming preference for the MBA over specialized master’s alternatives. Asking simply, “In the post-Covid-19 world, which degree will be the most valued?” the admissions consulting firm found 59% support for the MBA compared to just 31% support for other business master’s degrees out of more than 3,300 responses on LinkedIn and YouTube.
“An MBA from a reputed institution matters for structured hiring pipelines by larger organizations who traditionally hire MBAs and continue to have good results with this process,” says Daksh Shah, a senior product manager with Amazon in the United States and one of the poll respondents.
CONSULTING FIRM WILL KEEP FOCUS ON MBA APPLICANTS — FOR NOW
Six percent of poll respondents said they preferred a Ph.D., making it the least preferred degree in the list. Interestingly, the wild card option — “Others” — ended up with around 4% of votes. What is “Other”? Sameer Kamat, a Cambridge MBA who founded MBA Crystal Ball, says poll respondents’ answers offer a clue to their thinking: There’s a feeling among some, he says, “that formal degrees may become less relevant compared to real-world experience and skills.”
Kamat says his primary motivation to publish the new poll “had less to do with generating community awareness and more to support our internal planning. At MBA Crystal Ball, our consulting capacity is fairly limited and each year we end up turning down a large number of applicant requests. This bandwidth constraint forces us to be highly cautious of where we spend our consulting resources.”
The firm, he adds, has long focused on MBA admissions. He wanted to know: would that change in the post-pandemic world? Have candidates for higher ed shifted their gaze?
“Traditionally, an overwhelmingly large proportion of our consulting business comes from MBA applications and only a minuscule from specialized master’s,” Kamat tells P&Q. “But seeing all the buzz around specialized master’s degrees in the media, I was wondering if it was time for us to re-look at our market focus and alter our consulting mix accordingly. From the poll results and also the number of MBA applicant signups we’ve seen for the current admissions season, it seems like we don’t need to make any course corrections yet.”
MORE RESPONSES FROM THE NEW POLL
Format will be a major determining factor, says another respondent to MBA Crystal Ball’s new poll, Shailesh S B, who has more than 13 years of experience in the education sector. “Degrees are not going to be of any use unless they are accompanied by learning,” he says. “In my opinion, hands-on experience is going to be the key.
“A large majority of the people who earn any of the above credentials are going to do it from Tier 2 or 3 Institutes and so their experience will become all the more important.”
London-based Deepak Ojha used his Cambridge MBA to switch careers from IT to angel investing. He says each degree has merits and drawback.
“An MBA would make sense if earned from a reputed institution (it would definitely help get a foot in the door), a Ph.D. would open doors for highly specialized roles,” Ojha says. “For specialized master’s, I can’t see a case unless earned from a top institution — considering most people go for STEM courses, and such master’s are now a way to enter a new market or score extra points for immigration purposes.”
Daksh Shah, the Amazon product manager, says the rise of specialized master’s programs from reputed institutions will continue as the demand and supply of talent increases, “and institutions/programs find ways to differentiate themselves from each other. From a prospective student’s perspective, figure out your target industry, apply to the institute that has a high reputation within that industry, in any program. Ph.D.s are different — you have to really be curious about a specific area and comfortable with the lifestyle of a researcher.”
Others commented that “Recommendations and referrals with demonstrated skills matter more than degrees to get a foot in the door”; and, “Any degree which can make a person skilled with the skills that aren’t replaceable by AI and automation will be valuable.”
‘CLEAR SIGNS THAT HIRING TRENDS ARE ON THE UPSWING’
Kamat and MBA Crystal Ball are among a few consultancies doing their own public opinion polling, providing a valuable window into the planning processes of mostly international, mostly South Asian candidates for graduate business education. In March, they published a poll in which MBA aspirants were presented with a range of options to consider in the event of a prolonged coronavirus environment, 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.
In May, MBA Crystal Ball published a poll showing that even as the Graduate Record Exam has made big gains and Graduate Management Admission Test has slipped in recent years, most candidates for graduate business education still prefer the GMAT by wide margins in choosing a B-school entrance exam. In the LinkedIn/YouTube poll of more than 3,000 respondents, 21.2% voted in favor of GRE, while 78.7% gave GMAT the thumbs up. In other words, 4 out of 5 applicants expressed a preference for GMAT over GRE — despite the widely reported hiccups at the start of the pandemic and the steady gain in market share by the GRE reported by leading MBA programs.
Regarding MBA Crystal Ball’s most recent survey, Kamat cautions against reading too much into any single poll about the future of what remains the flagship program at most leading business schools. But he points to Poets&Quants‘ recent coverage of the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Corporate Recruiter Survey and says that in conjunction, the two snapshots offer evidence of the resilience of the MBA and the attractiveness to employers of MBA degree holders.
“There are clear signs that the hiring trends are on the upswing,” Kamat notes. “P&Q recently published data that suggests 9 out of 10 recruiters plan to hire MBA grads.”