Is 2021 the Best Year to Pursue an MBA?

Article Icon Article
Monday, April 12, 2021
By Nick Barniville
Photo by iStock
An uncertain job market and an array of degree options make this an excellent time for individuals to study graduate management education.

The coronavirus has rapidly turned the whole world on its head. No longer do we spend an hour on daily commutes, shake hands with colleagues, or gather in large groups for work conferences, sporting events, or educational programs.

The pandemic has caused global disruption, especially in the dramatic ways it has changed the way we work and learn. The workplace will only continue to change, and the educational options now available are better and more flexible than ever. These two factors could make now the ideal moment for individuals to enroll in MBA programs.

The Situation at Work

The first reason that now is a good time to enroll in business school is that the economy and the job market are still struggling. In 2020, the only major country to experience any economic growth was China—by contrast, most European nations experienced recessions during the past year. The level of unemployment has increased across most major economies, too, with significant drops in the number of job postings. In the U.K., for example, December 2020 saw a 35 percent decrease in job listings compared to the previous year.

During this time, many people have lost their jobs, experienced pay cuts, or been put on temporary leave. Not only are new jobs hard to come by, but at many companies the chances of career progression have stalled during the pandemic. The opportunity cost of not working for a year is probably as low as it is going to be for decades, making this the ideal time for people spend that year pursuing their degrees.

And those who earn their MBAs will be able to step confidently into a workplace that has been permanently changed by COVID-19. Managers and leaders must have very different skills than they needed just a short time ago. They must be able to manage remotely, make decisions based on public health and its impact on their workforce, and adapt business models to an increasingly digitized world.

On a broader scale, future leaders also must know how to deal with external uncertainties and how to seize on opportunities early. They need to understand the importance of social cohesion and the role businesses can fulfill as custodians of societal balance and social equity.

These are the sorts of skills that students will learn in their MBA programs. Graduates who acquire these competencies now will be one step ahead of their peers when they re-enter the job market.

The Virtual Campus

The second reason now is a good time for students to pursue MBAs is that universities and business schools have become adept at offering online and hybrid programs. When the pandemic arrived in 2020, institutions of higher education had to make the shift to online education in a rapid fashion. The initial chaos of that switchover is behind us, but it inspired the acceleration and professionalization of online delivery, with three benefits:

  • Professors learned how to make remote courses engaging and interactive. This means that MBA applicants who attend hybrid or online MBA programs today will be in virtual classes that are miles ahead of where they were in previous years.
  • Virtual classrooms became places of rich diversity. Students from all over the world can enroll in online programs, and a wide variety of speakers who might not have wanted to travel to campus can deliver their presentations remotely. 
  • Online networking opportunities became plentiful and sophisticated. Even though they are not meeting in person, students are enjoying—and often organizing—extracurricular events that enable them to share experiences and make connections. In particular, special interest networking groups have proliferated in the online environment. One example is the Agricultural Technology (AgTech) Club that launched last year at ESMT in Berlin.

Overall, while acknowledging Zoom fatigue, students appear to be more comfortable with virtual methods of learning, and many have shown a heightened willingness to take at least some university courses online. At ESMT Berlin, we have responded to this increased interest by offering a new blended MBA program as well as a fully online MBA.

The In-Person Alternative

However, some potential MBA students still have no interest in virtual education options, because they derive much of the value of their programs from in-person social interactions. They want to meet people outside the classroom, get involved in peripheral activities, and be exposed to left-field ideas that lead them to new avenues of discovery. Those who enrolled in 2020 or early in 2021 are understandably frustrated about the continuing lack of on-campus teaching in most parts of the world.

These individuals should know that, looking forward, fall 2021 should be an excellent time to pursue graduate business degrees. COVID-19 vaccines are offering the hope that, within the next six months, the world can return to something that resembles normalcy, which means that face-to-face learning might be widely available by this fall. At the minimum, many classes are likely to include at least some level of face-to-face instruction this year.

Therefore, this fall’s MBA students will likely experience a blended learning approach that gives them the best of both worlds—an enhanced online learning experience coupled with an opportunity to occasionally meet in person. They also will enjoy the chance to network with peers, complete in-company projects, and participate in internships.

The Right Moment

Today, unemployment is high, the job market is competitive, and the economy is uncertain. But recovery is in sight. When the world achieves some degree of normalcy again and the economy picks up, the number of available jobs will increase.

Students who enroll in MBA programs this fall are choosing an ideal time to take a year off from their jobs to prepare for the next phase of their careers. Hopefully, they will graduate into a booming job market at exactly the right moment, having mastered skills that will enable them to thrive in the new normal.

Nick Barniville
Associate Dean, Degree Programs; Director, EdTech Lab, ESMT Berlin
Article Tags
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.