Long-time MBA admissions consultant Linda Abraham sees a window opening. She has some straightforward advice for those considering applying to business school in 2022-2023: Aim for the first round.
While it’s generally accepted that applying in the first round gives applicants the best odds of admission, Abraham, founder of Accepted, says this is especially true for the coming cycle that gets underway in the fall at most top B-schools. She says confidence in the strong economy of 2021 has given way to concerns about 2023 — and that means B-schools soon may be flooded with applicants seeking to ride out the economic storm.
“I think you can say that every year — that applicants should aim for Round 1,” Abraham tells Poets&Quants. “But I think there’s a little bit more urgency to it this year, a little bit more oomph to it. Because right now, you’re still reading about the super-tight job markets and all the opportunities and all that — but I don’t know if you’re going to be reading about that in six months.”
MESSAGE TO APPLICANTS: START TO PADDLE BEFORE THE WAVE COMES IN
Linda Abraham has been an MBA admissions consultant since 1994. She’s seen lots of economic undulations in that time, including the Great Recession of 2008 and the Covid recession of 2020. And what she has observed is that impressions of a strong economy that produced the well-studied countercyclical dampening effect on MBA admissions through the 2021-2022 cycle have given way since spring 2022 to doubts about the strength of the economy — which, logically, portends another boom in MBA apps.
Various troubling indicators, inflation not least of which, reinforce the view of a weakened job market by 2023, Abraham says — potentially making now the perfect time to apply to go back to school.
“If a recession’s coming, the thing is that you want to apply before everybody else does,” says Abraham, co-author of MBA Admission for Smarties and co-founder and first president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. “Everybody else tends to apply when unemployment is higher, job opportunities are more limited, and applicants think, ‘Gee, I need something to differentiate myself in the job market. I’ll go back to grad school and go to business school.’ If you wait for the recession to actually hit, then you’ll just have a lot more competition.”
The Los Angeles native offers an analogy.
“I never surfed, but I was occasionally a body surfer,” she says. “I spent a lot of time at the beach. And you’d see that the surfers, they were starting to paddle before the wave came in. They saw something. And that’s how they had a great surfboard run.”
BRACING FOR APP VOLUME TO SPIKE
What makes Abraham think a recession is coming? It’s not just vibes. As she laid out in a recent blog post:
“In late 2021 and early 2022 the economic predictions were optimistic. By May, that confidence had dissipated. Inflation surged, the stock market slumped, supply chain snafus multiplied, Russia invaded Ukraine, and interest rates climbed.
“Headlines increasingly relayed recession and layoff warnings.”
She notes the publicly declared concern in May of Lloyd Blankfein, senior chairman of Goldman Sachs; Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf; and reports in the The Wall Street Journal and BusinessInsider, and concludes:
“I have been an admissions consultant since 1994. During every recession since then, whether the dot-com bust, the Great Recession of 2008, or the COVID recession of 2020, potential grad students, especially MBA applicants, seek shelter from the economic storm: They enroll in grad school and improve their skills while opportunities for advancement are more limited and the risk of unwanted unemployment is higher.
“As a result, the graduate education market becomes a seller’s market. Application volume soars. Competition increases, and it’s harder to be accepted. Programs can be choosier about whom they admit and stingier when it comes to scholarships.”
Abraham, who is also the host of a popular podcast on B-school admissions called Admissions Smart Talk, says an economic downturn that drives up MBA apps is inevitable, and the key is to anticipate it before everyone else and apply while schools are still a little more eager to fill every seat.
But what if she’s wrong? What if the economy continues to roar well into the new year, and thus through the end of the current application cycle?
In a word, So?
“My main point is that if application volume increases either in Round 2, Round 3 or next year as a result of the anticipated recession, applicants are better off applying Round 1, and more so this cycle than most cycles,” Abraham says. “Furthermore, if the recession doesn’t materialize, they can decline to attend because of some fantastic opportunity that they have, attempt to defer (which I realize is difficult), or attend if they get into their dream school because applications, especially domestic applications, are down.
“Finally, if the recession comes, they may be able to spend most of it in an MBA program and graduate into an expanding economy.
Bottom line: Get started now. Take the GMAT or GRE and apply in Round 1.
“Get moving,” Abraham says. “Apply before a recession hits and application volume soars. If you are applying to MBA programs and either have a test score, assuming you need one, or feel you can prepare well in 4-8 weeks, do so ASAP. Aim to submit most or all of your applications Round 1.”