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To Matriculate or Not To Matriculate: COVID-19 Impact Survey Results

COVID-19 and the extreme measures required to slow its spread have had a profound impact on workers, students, families, and the global economy. With established day-to-day routines being wildly disrupted, major life changes—like enrolling in a full-time MBA program—can seem even more daunting than usual.

After seeing some lively conversation on LiveWire among members of the Clear Admit community earlier this month, we put together a quick survey to get a sense of how the novel coronavirus pandemic is factoring into prospective students’ decision-making about pursuing an MBA. Most of our respondents had already applied for a Fall 2020 start, so this post focuses on findings for that group.

Participant Preferences and Admissions Status

We received responses from 365 MBA admits and hopefuls who had applied to enroll in Fall 2020. Information about participant demographics and work experience are included at the end of this article.

Nearly all (98.9%) respondents reported that they are targeting full-time MBA programs, and 96% reported a preference for traditional in-person instruction vs. an online or hybrid delivery format. Participants’ target application rounds are presented in the table below (of note, respondents could select more than one option).

Participants' Target MBA Application Rounds

With respect to their admissions statuses at the time of the survey:

  • 72% percent reported that they had been admitted to at least one program
  • 24% were still awaiting a final admissions decision
  • 4% had been waitlisted.

COVID-19 MBA Decision-Making Impact

Only 30% of participants reported that they had received all of their admissions decisions before the novel coronavirus outbreak, and 35% had decided where to enroll (i.e. identified their first choice program). Put another way, both schools and applicants were still in the midst of their decision-making processes when social distancing measures began.

Participants were asked to rate how much the COVID-19 outbreak and related social distancing measures (which we’ll refer to by the shorthand “COVID-19” for the rest of this post) have influenced their decision-making about whether to begin a degree program in Fall 2020 on a scale of 0 (not at all influential) to 100 (extremely influential). The histogram below reflects the number of participants who selected each rating.

COVID-19 Enrollment Decision Influence

Ratings spanned the full range, with 15% of participants reporting that COVID-19 is a non-factor in their decision-making about whether to attend an MBA program this fall – and 7 % rating it as extremely influential.  The average rating was 39.85 (SD=33.73); the median rating was 35. This suggests that uncertainty around how business school and the economy will look this fall is on applicants’ minds—to varying degrees—as they determine whether to matriculate this fall.

Participants were also asked to rate how much COVID-19 has influenced their decision-making about which business school to attend in Fall 2020 on the same scale (0=not at all influential; 100=extremely influential). The number of participants who selected each rating appear in the histogram below.

Fully one third of participants rated COVID-19 as not at all influential in their choice of which MBA program to attend, while only 3% chose the highest rating. The average rating was 19.84 (SD=28.5), and the median was 30. This suggests that COVID-19 is less of a factor in prospective students’ school choices than in their decision-making about whether to matriculate in the first place.

Finally, participants who had not yet decided where to enroll were asked how they plan to gather information about MBA programs, given the cancelation of admitted student events and campus visit programs. A summary of their responses is presented in the table below.

Participants' Expected Sources of MBA Program Information

In short, admits are planning to rely heavily on official information channels and current MBA community members. School-hosted webinars, chats, and virtual information sessions were the most popular response (selected by 49% of respondents), followed by phone/email/video conversations with current students (48%) and MBA program websites (45%).

Anticipated Impact on the MBA Experience

While it seems that most respondents are likely to follow through on their MBA plans this fall, they are doing so with their eyes open to the potential for social distancing measures to last into the coming school year.

Participants were asked how much they expected COVID-19 to impact the educational experience for students beginning an MBA this fall, on a scale of 0 (not at all impactful) to 100 (extremely impactful). The histogram below reflects the number of participants who selected each rating.

Expected Impact on Educational Experience
The average rating was 59.57 (SD=27.02); the median rating was 60. Eleven percent of respondents indicated that they anticipated an extreme impact on the educational experience, and fewer than 1% reported that they expected no impact for students matriculating next fall.

Looking beyond the classroom, we also asked participants to rate how much they expected COVID-19 to impact post-MBA career outcomes for the Class of 2022 on the same 0 to 100 scale. The number of participants who selected each rating appear in the histogram below.

Anticipated Impact on Career Outcomes

The average rating was 52.87 (SD=29.69); the median was 52. At the ends of the scale, 8% of respondents reported that they expected an extreme impact, and 4% anticipating no impact on MBA graduates’ career outcomes. Meanwhile, the modal (i.e. most frequent) response was 50, with 10% of respondents expecting a moderate impact rather than an extreme one.

Finally, we asked participants a hypothetical question: Would you still begin an MBA program in Fall 2020 if you had to complete the first semester online? As illustrated in the graph to the right, most respondents were open to the idea – though a majority expressed some ambivalence:

  • 33% reported that they would still matriculate
  • 52% were unsure about whether they would matriculate
  • 15% indicated that they would would not matriculate

Conclusion

These survey results suggest that in general, prospective members of the MBA Class of 2022 anticipate that COVID-19 will impact their educational experience and their post-MBA career outcomes to some degree – and that uncertainty related to this pandemic is a factor as they decide whether to matriculate this fall.

One notable limitation: when we asked respondents how much they expected COVID-19 to impact their educational experience and career outcomes, the item did not specify whether the impact was positive or negative. The context of the survey would tend to lead participants to focus on detrimental effects, but it is possible that some were anticipating benefits as well – particularly with regard to economic recovery and full-time recruiting in 2022.

Respondents indicated that they plan to rely most heavily on official school channels (websites, webinars, chats, etc.) and current students as they gather information this spring. This represents an opportunity for admissions teams and other stakeholders to offer reassurance, facilitate dialogue, showcase their school’s approach to online instruction (should social distancing measures continue into the 2020-2021 academic year), and address concerns related to internship and full-time recruiting for the incoming MBA class.

Sample Characteristics

With respect to age, gender, citizenship, and ethnicity, sample demographics were as follows:

  • The average age of participants was 27.8 (SD=2.82)
  • 37% identified as women and 61% as male; 2% declined to respond
  • 68% reported that they are currently residing in the U.S., and 62% were U.S. citizens
  • 45% identified as White; 33% as East Asian or South Asian; 12% as Latinx/Hispanic; 8% as Black, African, or Caribbean; and 2% as Other. One participant identified as Middle Eastern, and one as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Four percent declined to respond.

The vast majority of participants (92%) reported that they are currently working full time. With respect to how much full-time work experience participants had:

  • 8% reported that they had between 1.5 and three years
  • 24% had between three and four years
  • 30% had between four and five years
  • 38% had more than five years

Posted in: Clear Admit Insights, News

About the Author

Alex Kelly
Alex Kelly

Alex is Clear Admit’s Director of Data Strategy & Marketing. She has been working in the MBA admissions space for more than 15 years in research, consulting, and writing roles. She holds an M.S.Ed. from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Utah.

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