Recession Driving Applicants to Business School?

Posted by: Francesca Di Meglio on June 23, 2009

By Francesca Di Meglio

Things aren’t always as they seem, according to a recent survey of prospective business school applicants. Fewer people seem to be heading back to business school than you would think based on the reports and discussions in the media – and those who are planning to join MBA programs are going back to school for different reasons and not to ride out the economic recession.

So far in 2009, registration volume for the GMAT is on par with the same period in 2008, which is a difference from the dramatic increases of the recent past, according to “MBA Applications: Is the Party Over?” At the same time many people have speculated that aspiring MBAs are heading to business school because they’ve lost their jobs, and they want to gain more skills and improve their resume in time for the economy to pick up. But in a recent survey, conducted by Manhattan GMAT, 82% of the 6,000 respondents from within the entire Manhattan GMAT community, say they are employed full time. And 78% of them say they feel stable, if not secure, in their job status, according to the survey.

"Given the bleak economic picture reported in the media, these survey results were surprising," says Manhattan GMAT CEO Andrew Yang. "There’s a perception that students might be pursuing business school due to recession-related employment fears or setbacks, but we found that prospective MBA students are optimistic, secure in their jobs, and are focused on the benefits an MBA can bring professionally."

Still, it’s hard to tell what is going on in the minds of applicants and those in the business world who have lost their jobs. Maybe the unemployed simply can’t afford pricey business schools, which can cost upward of $80,000 for two years, for example. Or maybe, even if they have job security, they could be concerned about the other possible ways their jobs might change in this recession – fewer benefits and bonuses, salary cutbacks, fewer people doing lots of work, shorter work weeks, job sharing, lack of morale, etc. This survey does not address these other possibilities, and there’s no way to know what is going on in the minds of applicants.

What is interesting about the Manhattan GMAT survey is how those preparing for the GMAT are expecting to use their MBA degree. More than half – 56% to be precise – of the respondents said they were planning for careers outside of the traditional MBA fields of finance and consulting. Only 29% said they would be changing careers, and 19% planned to work for a startup or start their own business.

While their goals might be changing, the traditional optimism of graduate business school students prevails. In fact, 60% of respondents say they believe the economic environment when they finish business school will be much better than it is today, while 55% of them say their first job out of an MBA program will offer higher compensation than they have currently.

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