‘IT WAS A VERY COMPETITIVE YEAR….AND THERE WAS CARNAGE’
The bottom line: For many candidates, the 2020-2021 admissions season was challenging and peculiar, with higher application volumes and an influx of more international students who had either deferred or sat out the year-earlier cycle. “Let’s start out with one obvious point: last year was weird,” says Betsy Massar, of Master Admissions. “Even one year ago at this time nobody knew what was going on with school openings and applications. The schools were equally uncertain and sending out mixed messages about waiving tests, and deferrals and how that would affect the class size and competition.
“P&Q data shows that applications went up, although not evenly across the board – but the perception that applications were going up was what drove some of the class planning. And then, who can forget stuff like MIT Sloan’s yield of like 95% on its first-round offers? So if you were an applicant in Round 2 for MIT, or heaven forbid, dropped an application in during Round 3, it was crazy competitive. But it was off the charts on the Xanax scale for just about everyone.”
Other admission consultants saw increased competition for a seat in this fall’s class as well. “Last season was unparalleled in terms of what I have seen in the last decade or so,” says Alex Leventhal, Prep MBA Admissions Consulting. “And there was carnage. Folks who would have walked into CBS or Wharton some years back did not get through or were waitlisted. And I saw one top seven school initially waitlist some highly attractive clients who ultimately got into HBS and GSB. Overall, it was a very competitive year.”
‘THIS YEAR THE XANAX QUOTIENT ISN’T OVERWHELMING’
With R1 deadlines days away, most expect a less competitive season. Based on their interactions with clients, admission consultants believe getting into a top MBA program should be easier in 2021-2022, though they do anticipate a larger than normal volume of re-applicants who failed to get into their first-choice programs this past year. “This season seems comparatively softer,” adds Leventhal, “and Round Two might be a great option for those on the fence about waiting for R1 next season. With inflation and possible interest rate increases, there may be more macro economic risk, and apps may rise again.”
Massar agrees. “Everything we are seeing makes this year look pretty normal. That is, more like the season before anyone ever used the word pandemic in a discussion with a six-year-old. Even with the COVID variants and some changes around work-from-home, students aren’t so worried about getting laid off and schools are able to plan their classes a little better. So the Xanax quotient isn’t overwhelming.”
But she is cautious not to make that a blanket statement. “The issue this year is competition for students who are neither diverse nor are very articulate about intersectionality,” adds Massar. “Clueless and entitled candidates will face even bigger headwinds than in recent years. But I do see schools are giving candidates a lot of opportunity to go beyond checking the box, and to bring in the way they were brought up, whether they moved around for economic reasons. I’m really impressed with the way Darden has incorporated diversity-equity-inclusion into its questions, where it asks the student about self-awareness around DEI. It’s a very inclusive question.”
‘WE’VE HAD ANOTHER VERY BUSY SUMMER & ENQUIRIES ARE UP BY 15%’
Symonds has a slightly different view of the coming year. “As we begin the new 2021/22 admissions cycle with the HBS Round 1 deadline today, it has been another very busy summer,” he maintains. “Enquiries at Fortuna have grown by 15% year on year, with international enquiries rising sharply. Demand from India has skyrocketed, while the Chinese market is more subdued perhaps given a wider political context. We expect this to be a particularly competitive year, in part because this year’s applicants are that much more prepared.
“They’ve taken the time over the past 12 months to really research the schools at the CentreCourt MBA Festival and through a wide range of school outreach initiatives. They have also set aside time to study for the GMAT or GRE. And most importantly the idea of heading back to business school for an MBA has been in the minds of many applicants since the start of the pandemic. They are eager for change, rather than a dutiful return to the office. They have every reason to be confident about the job market they will graduate into two or three years from now.”
At mbaMission, Shinewald says his admissions consulting business has been up since January but he, too, is cautious about the coming year after predicting a massive 2020-2021 cycle. “I am not going to be fooled again,” he laughs. “If application volumes were not up universally last year, amid the most intense aspects of the pandemic, then I don’t think they will be this year, with the economy surging and firms doing everything they can to retain their employees. Would-be MBA applicants are being wooed with stock options that are increasing in value as share prices reach new heights and with one-time bonuses and raises. Ironically enough, that does make it a great time to apply, if you are playing the long game. This year may be an “easier” year for applicants to find their way into their dream programs.”