MBA Now Or EMBA Later? How The Great Resignation Is Affecting Applicants’ Plans

The “Great Resignation” sounds ominous, and for some individuals and industries, it certainly is. As the global pandemic approaches its second anniversary, hundreds of thousands are leaving their jobs to pivot, drop out, or otherwise recast their careers in a massive shift that is further confusing — but also, in ways not yet entirely understood, invigorating — already disrupted world economies.

What’s going on? At the beginning of 2021, more than 40% of all employees were thinking of leaving their jobs, according to research published in January of this year by MIT Sloan. Experts at the Sloan School and New York University’s Stern School of Business blame toxic work culture; Erica Peng, professor at UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, says in a recent interview in Digital Journal that there’s more to it. “What’s missing,” Peng says, “is the neuroscience underlying this mass exodus of workers. People all over the world are in a heightened state of ‘fight-or-flight’ behavior from an ongoing crisis.”

Whether they have been pushed out of the workforce by stagnant wages, spurred to switch careers by burnout, or made a reassessment of what matters in life sparked by a desire to do good or effect positive change, huge gaps are appearing in the workforce — and that means there are more opportunities now, amid a rapidly rising economy, for young, ambitious, and upwardly mobile professionals. For these reasons and more, business schools anticipated — and preliminary reports have indicated — a downturn in MBA applications in the 2021-2022 cycle after two years of boom.


Stacy Blackman, founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Are candidates for graduate business education looking at the landscape and deciding to eschew traditional full-time MBA programs now in favor of executive or online degrees later in their career, perhaps when the economy cools off? For someone who is 26, 27, 28 years old, it’s not an easy choice: Most MBA programs have traditionally looked askance at applicants once they hit 30. The window is short and closes rapidly.

Poets&Quants asked some of the top MBA admission consultants what they’re seeing; here are their insights.

“The value and timing for the MBA has been hotly debated for decades, especially during periods when the job market is strong,” notes Stacy Blackman, founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting. “We speak with several hundred applicants a month through a three-person, centralized intake team. We’re easily able to identify trends and actively look for changes in preferences among our inquiry pool. The business school applicants who come our way know that a top full-time MBA degree, such as Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, and the others, would markedly change their career opportunities during a pivotal time professionally. They would not delay their plan, as they are 100% set on securing an elite, full-time MBA admit.

“High-caliber MBA applicants know that the student peer group, networks, and recruiting opportunities are very different for a full-time program relative to the EMBA. More than that, full-time MBA demand is strong because the two most coveted MBA programs in the world — Harvard and Stanford — don’t have the EMBA option.”


Blackman says full-time MBA programs are still the preferred degree for employers, giving the “best and brightest” access to top salaries and great networks. “Career recruiting among the dominant industries, including tech, consulting, and finance, happen from the full-time programs,” she says. “A former recruiter from McKinsey and Bain recently shared with our SBC team that those firms target full-time business programs in recruiting for their top positions. A tech industry specialist and HBS MBA grad, Tori, who works on our SBC team, echoed the preference for full-time MBA programs. She shared that the summer internship, which is only possible via the full-time MBA program, is the main gateway to recruiting positions: ‘The internship program provides both a lot of hand-holding into the basics of working in tech and offers a two-three month proving ground for students before they are considered (usually automatically) for a full-time MBA-track starting role. They also provide interns with the valuable community of the other program participants and perks ranging from talks, lunches, mentor sessions, and (in the trend of most tech companies) branded swag.'”

Full-time MBA grads offer tech companies, in particular, strategic thinking and a set of transferable skills for a plethora of product roles, Blackman continues. “With tech recruiting on the rise at MBA programs and in the recruiting universe generally, this is yet another incentive for young professionals to favor the full-time program route,” she says.

She adds that the hard cap of 30 years old that has traditionally divided MBA from EMBA candidates is much fuzzier now.

“Full-time MBA program admissions is adapting according to employer recruiting preferences, as we see top MBA admissions accepting a more diverse range of candidates including those who are younger (e.g., two years tenured) or much more tenured (e.g., seven-plus years) than we would have seen in the past,” Blackman says, “so we don’t see hard age limits to full-time MBA admissions that would otherwise propel candidates toward the EMBA route.”


Blackman points to Sara Cherlin Diniz, a mid-career professional who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. “There’s no doubt,” Diniz says, “that my Harvard MBA enabled me to seamlessly pivot careers … TWICE. The brand name credentialing, the life-long career support resources, and the extensive alumni network were instrumental in enabling me to migrate from strategy consultant to brand manager to the talent/HR space … all while not regressing in my career trajectory. It’s impossible to calculate an ROI of the degree, but I am certain that the course of my professional advancement would have been different without these priceless benefits.”

The MBA’s worth depends entirely on your professional profile and career aspirations, Blackman says, and what you do once you are at the program. “Fit with and performance at the program are essential,” she says. “Where there may be more equity between full-time and EMBA program options is for those who plan to stay indefinitely in their employer/industry, are 15+ tenured professionally, and/or don’t need a top 20 MBA brand for their aspirations, short or long-term.”

Blackman is not convinced there will be a downturn in MBA applications this cycle. She wouldn’t be surprised to see the opposite.

“We actually don’t see applicants to full-time or EMBA programs who are participating in the Great Resignation via unemployment — that phenomenon likely applies to a different set of career professionals. As it applies to top MBA aspirants, the Great Resignation probably has increased MBA demand because applicants are in ‘now or never’ and ‘shoot your shot’ mode. The pandemic has given the next generation a stronger sense of purpose and desire for impact. Many MBA students have mesmerizing visions for their future. As such, MBA hard costs are truly trivial relative to their grand professional goals.”

See the next page for insights into the impact of “The Great Resignation” from Linda Abraham, Caroline Diarte Edwards, Paul Bodine, and Candy Lee LaBalle.

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