Business school aspirants around the world are wondering whether it is a good time to apply for an MBA amid a pandemic and a looming economic crisis. 

While enrolling in an MBA now is not an easy decision, it may prove highly advantageous in the long run.

► Meet top MBA programmes from around the world.

Less competition

Let’s start with the easiest and most obvious prediction. With many arguably hesitating whether to start their MBA education now and ultimately deciding not to, competition should ease. For you, this translates into better odds of securing a place in an elite programme and thus enjoying significantly better career prospects.  

Besides, schools have done everything in their power to enable a smooth application process. In addition, you can now take exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT and GRE at home where you will probably feel more comfortable and confident than in a test centre. 

The current indecisiveness among applicants is not expected to last long. With the anticipated economic downturn, business schools are expecting a boom in applications. Jonathan Moules, the Financial Times’ business education correspondent, said: “Once the pandemic has passed, taking time out of the workforce won’t be such a risk: millions have lost their jobs or decided on a change of direction.

Going back to school in uncertain times

Business schools look forward to an increase in applications because they have gone through crises and know what to expect. The pattern is clear: as the economy worsens, applications go up and as the economy improves, applications go down.

Now that we are facing another crisis, which combines a public health challenge and an economic meltdown, it may be revealing to take a look at previous crises and their impact on business education. Previous recessions have sent MBA applications surging. In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, more than two-thirds of full-time MBA programmes reported a year-on-year rise in applications, according to data compiled by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Positive career outlook

It seems that when it is difficult to find a job and achieve career progress, many business professionals look at the MBA as a haven from a difficult economy. It also seems that pursuing a degree when the economy turns sour is typically the right decision and a shrewd strategy. MBA participants are able to gain new knowledge and expand their skillset while the crisis rages and then are able to benefit from the economic recovery when they graduate. A Bloomberg analysis of graduating classes of 2010, 2011, and 2012 from 126 business schools around the globe found that, despite entering a post-recession job market, most found work after graduating.

Read: What Happens When MBA Alumni Face an Economic Crisis?

The biggest concern for the higher education sector now is not a lack of demand, but the severity of travel restrictions in a post-lockdown world. It is too early to say when international travel might resume and what it will look like when it does.

Doubts and questions

Right now, the uncertainty surrounding the start of programmes is significant among both students and schools. MIP Politecnico di Milano (Italy) has “received many, many inquiries and we are offering an option of the first two months study totally online, but people are asking whether they will be able to travel to the campus after that time because they want to come here. I don’t know what is going to happen come the autumn,” Greta Maiocchi, chief customers management officer and former head of the MBA division at the business school, told the Financial Times.

Schools realise that both prospective and current students have many doubts and questions right now. Some institutions rely on their reputation to reassure students. “It’s a leap of faith. But if I were a betting person from what I know and what I’ve seen, I would bet on us,” Jana Kierstead, executive director of MBA programmes at Harvard Business School (US), said on a webinar hosted by the school.

Read: Will Fall Semester 2020 Begin on Campus?

Think long-term

When considering applying for an MBA, aspirants are advised to envisage the long-term effect the degree will have on their professional and personal development. This is even more important in times of crisis. Think about the tangible benefits of the programme such as new skills and knowledge, but also the intangibles -- increased self-confidence, improved credibility among peers and employers, curiosity about new fields, self-discipline, etc. Also don’t forget the networking opportunities you will have during the experience. The downturn will not last forever. When it ends, and even before that, companies will be looking for professionals who create value. The MBA can turn you into a hot pick.  

You may have doubts about how to proceed and this is completely normal. However, when evaluating your options, take into account a longer temporal horizon. In retrospect, it may turn out that enrolling in an MBA programme amid a pandemic was the best decision you have ever made.