Covid19 and MBA Admissions: The Deans Are Talking, Are You Listening?

I have been asked, what coronavirus means for MBA Admissions. Will Adcoms be looking for anything different?

I advise looking for answers the way I always do: listen carefully to what schools are saying (and not saying) and interpret it carefully.

For example, a recent post-Corona BusinessBecause interview of six b-school Deans and Associate Deans around the world, sheds some light. I share two with you.

Peter Tufano, Oxford University Saïd Business School: “This is not a time for business as usual. This is a time for business unusual. We need to think about not only the world in which we find ourselves, but also the world that we want to build when we emerge from this pandemic, economic and humanitarian crisis. We are going to have to collaborate and act in new ways. We are going to have to be mindful not only of the present, but of the future.

“This calls for leadership that can not only deal with the realities of disrupted supply chains and cash flow constraints, but also the longer-term goals of creating a better economy and society.”

Tai-Yuan Chen, HKUST Business School: “It is imperative for business practitioners to evolve with time. Specialization gives competitive edge but a holistic business understanding and the ability to speak the language of different business units are equally important.

“If you are considering to equip yourself with new skill sets, aim at those that offer you flexibility, so that you can evolve with time, intellectually and professionally, and adapt to changes when required, giving you a much stronger foothold in the ever-changing economic environment.

“The coronavirus crisis prompted us to rethink the objective of our education. Instead of just preparing students for normal times, we should take the opportunity to empower their professional knowledge, skills and mentality for crisis as well.”

The takeaway: along with the standard attributes you need to get into an elite business school, at the current moment there is particular admissions value for those who can show evidence of flexibility in crisis, holistic thinking, overcoming a significant change event, reducing uncertainty, or collaborating to create better outcomes.

‘I’m Furloughed, Does That Affect My MBA Admissions Prospects?’

In September 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, I wrote a post on unemployment and MBA admissions.

At the time, a lot of people—particularly in financial services but also more widely—had been bounced out of their jobs due to the credit crunch and associated recession.

Sound familiar? Here we are in the era of Covid19 in a similar place, only more so, with employment implications that are wider and deeper.

If you’re furloughed, but in a few months you find yourself back in the same position, that’s not going to affect your MBA application in any way. In fact it helps you, if you can show you used your time off wisely and productively

What I said then as regards a real period of unemployment was, yes, it does negatively affect your MBA acceptance prospects, particularly at top schools. In the context where 1 in 10 are admitted, it’s going to be hard to be the one if you’re unemployed.

But just as those were not normal times, nor are these. Lots of people have been squeezed out of the job market due to the pandemic. If you’re one of them, Adcom will understand that.

The test then becomes,  how did you respond? What did you do with your time? Also, how did the experience changed you? How have you grown?

Unemployment often stimulates a period of life-stocktaking, where we have the breathing space to reevaluate our goals or at least ask ‘what do I really want to do next?’ Adcom is interested to see if you can do and have done this personal work, and what your answers are.

Keep in mind also that most senior executives—your role model in your MBA application—will face periods of career upheaval. Showing you can cope with this is a mark in your favor.

Back in 2009, Chicago Booth had  fabulous admissions blog written by Rose Martinelli, then Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions. (When she left, it became the more prosaic”Booth Insider,” and it is now the really dull ‘Chicago Full-Time MBA Admissions Blog’. They ask you to write lively, attractive essays yet themselves put out this dull info wire, what’s with that…? But I digress.)

Anyway, the point is, what Martinelli had to say then about newly unemployed candidates and MBA admissions still holds as excellent advice. Asked whether unemployed candidates would get in, she said:

“The simple answer is yes! Many people have been displaced over the past year through no fault of their own, and finding a new job in their target industry/function has been equally difficult.

“So what can you do? First, take stock of what you have learned about yourself during this time. For many of you, this may have shaken your confidence and impacted what you want to do with your life/career going forward. Help us to understand this in your application.

“Second, let us know what you have been doing with your newfound freedom and what motivates you. Are you taking classes, volunteering your services, traveling, etc.? There is no right or wrong activity… Again, help us to understand your choices and motivations.

“As you’ve probably learned by now, we’re so much more interested in how you have coped with these surprises and what you’ve learned about yourself,” said Martinelli.

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