How The MBA Became More Attractive During COVID

Applications to business schools applications rose by 2.4% globally last year, despite the world being shut down by a pandemic.  Notably, applications to Columbia Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, jumped a whopping 18% and 21%, respectively.That increase in MBA admissions, experts say, is here to stay. Bloomberg Businessweek recently looked into how business schools are set to sustain their pandemic admissions boosts for the next few years.


One of the key reasons why business schools saw such a large jump in applications last year was due to the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the global economy.

“As the economy was taking a U-turn from high growth to a complete screeching halt, that led to a lot of midcareer professionals to start hedging their careers,” Rahul Choudaha, GMAC’s director of industry insights, tells The Wall Street Journal. “They see business schools as a chance to incubate from this uncertainty.”

With campuses closing up last March, business schools had to come up with innovative ways to attract potential applicants. For many schools, this meant extending application deadlines, offering deferred admission options, and waiving GMAT and GRE requirements for admission – strategies that many experts say helped the MBA degree become an attractive option in an economic recession.

“Suddenly, going back to school was not a bad thing, because of the threat of job losses and actual job losses,” Brad Staats, a professor and associate dean of MBA programs at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, tells Bloomberg Business.

Kenan-Flagler saw a massive 43% jump in MBA applications last year. To accommodate the increase, the school increased its class size by 37%. Additionally, Kenan-Flagler extended its final round 4 application deadline by more than three months – a key strategy that helped bring in additional applications.

“It’s definitely one for the books,” Danielle Richie, the school’s senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment, tells P&Q. “We increased the size of the class because we had so many strong, quality candidates that we really wanted to build a diverse class out of the increased pool. Some of the innovative things we did were able to attract a larger applicant pool.”

At IE Business School in Madrid, the full-time MBA program saw a boost in applications last year as well. Mar Hurtado, vice president for global recruitment and marketing at IE, says that growth was only accelerated by the pandemic as applicants began to understand the importance that an MBA degree holds in trying times.

“So many people who lost their jobs didn’t take care of training themselves; they thought their company was going to be around to provide forever,” Hurtado tells Bloomberg Businessweek.

Sources: Bloomberg Businessweek, GMAC, P&Q, The Wall Street Journal, P&Q

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