As the start of the fall semester approaches, business schools are working on different scenarios about how and when to resume programmes.

So, how will the semester begin? Are business schools going to stick to online instruction? What about campuses? Will they remain empty? Both schools and students are looking for answers to these questions as the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted academic life.   

In an attempt to provide some clarity, Access MBA has decided to provide an overview of how schools plan to go forward in these unusual circumstances, and the possible implications for students.

Read: How to Reopen Campus this Autumn

Online or face-to-face?

From today’s point of view, many schools are finding it difficult to predict whether they will be able to resume face-to-face classes in a safe environment. In Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, IE University has guaranteed that the academic year will start as planned in fall, but there are uncertainties about the format. “We hope it will be able to begin in the face-to-face format, which would mean the Covid-19 crisis has passed. If this turns out to not be the case, we must begin the programmes […] in an online format,” the school said.

Boston University (US), of which Questrom School of Business is part, sounded a similar note, saying it may not return to face-to-face instruction until January 2021 if the pandemic is still severe. Another option is to let some students on campus and other take online classes.

Authorities will play a big role in how the semester will start. INSEAD’s campuses in both Europe and Asia are still closed, with the school simply saying that in-person classes will restart when possible and when indicated by the respective authorities.

Delayed start

The coronavirus outbreak has mainly affected the start of programmes originally scheduled to kick off in the spring. In the US, NYU Stern School of Business has delayed the start of two MBA programmes until the first week of July at the earliest. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has put off the Pre-Term for one of its joint MBA programmes, originally scheduled for May, to late July.

In general, programmes starting in the fall are not yet subject to delays. The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (Canada) said it does not expect students to be prevented from enrolling in fall and has no plans to rescind or defer offers. Hult International Business School (US) plans to start its MBA programme in person, adding that it is monitoring the situation closely to be able to adapt to any scenario. Hult has four campuses around the world and expects to be able to open them in September.

Schools that have multiple campuses may be better positioned to overcome difficulties related to the start of the semester. For instance, students could start their first year at a branch campus less affected by the outbreak before moving to their original destination, according to a blog post in Higher Education Policy Institute by Janet Ilieva, director and founder of Education Insight, and Vincenzo Raimo, adjunct professor of Global Higher Education at the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (China).

Gradual reopening

It is becoming increasingly likely that the reopening of the campuses will happen gradually and cautiously. “Opening is not going to be an event, it will be a process, it will take a couple of years to find a new normal,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, told the Wall Street Journal.

The on-campus experience, which is based on the premise of students living together and engaging in group activities, will certainly change. Experts predict that there will be limits on the size of gatherings at least until the end of the year, which means that there will be restrictions on the number of students attending classes in person and eating in dining rooms. According to one scenario, students may be asked to keep a certain distance from one another if campuses reopen.

Application process is more flexible

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the exact format of classes at the start of the semester, schools have done everything in their power to make the application process as easy as possible. Deadlines have been extended, extra rounds added, and rolling application introduced. Those unable to provide test results because of test centre closures have been allowed to apply without them and to sit the exams later. Exam providers, for their part, have launched at-home versions of the GMAT, GRE, TOEFL and IELTS. 

Schools continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates to their communities. Current and future students are advised to monitor their emails and visit their schools’ websites regularly for important updates.