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Let’s Do This: Findings from the Fall 2020 MBA Admit Preferences Survey

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As Fall 2020 MBA admits have had some time to get their heads around the potential impact of COVID-19 on their MBA experience, we’ve continued to survey our audience to keep our finger on the pulse of prospective students’ preferences and plans.

Today, we’re reporting the findings of our latest survey, which focused on admitted MBA students’ feelings about the possibilities of online instruction and reduced international student representation due to social distancing requirements and potential travel bans related to the novel coronavirus.

Four hundred ninety people responded to this survey, which was in the field between May 4th and May 13th. Detailed participant demographics are reported at the end of this article. With respect to their Fall 2020 admission status, participants reported the following (they could select more than one status):

  • 87.1% of respondents had already been admitted to at least one full-time MBA program for Fall 2020
  • 18.6% were hoping to be admitted from a waitlist
  • 9.6% were in process with at least one Round 3 application
  • 4.1% were applying for extended deadlines this spring/summer.

Are students depositing at multiple MBA programs for reasons related to COVID-19?

At this point in the admissions season, it’s common for admits to have deposited at one MBA program while hoping to be admitted from the waitlist of another. But how is COVID-19 complicating this signal of matriculation intentions?

When asked about whether they had paid deposits to more than one MBA program, 17% of respondents indicated that they had, and another 14% indicated that they hadn’t yet, but might. The breakdown of responses between U.S. and international prospects is presented in the pie charts below:

We next asked those respondents who had made or were thinking about making multiple deposits (N=152) what their reasons were. A summary of their responses is presented in the table below.

Most candidates reported that they were securing a spot at one school while hoping to “trade up” to an MBA program from which they had not yet received a final admissions decision. But, of note, about 40% indicated that they were holding a spot at two schools while waiting to see how they responded to COVID-19.

Responses to the “other” write-in item centered on:

  • Resolved admissions decisions (i.e. deposited at a school in R1, then another after R2 results, withdrawing from the R1 school), and
  • Attempts to put two schools in competition with each other to negotiate scholarship/financial aid offers

A quick word of caution to our readers: all of the participants who fell into the latter category indicated that they were unsuccessful.

How much tolerance do students have for remote instruction at the start of an MBA program?

In-person bonding, access to faculty members, campus clubs, and (at many leading b-schools) world class facilities are part of the value proposition of a full-time MBA program. But it’s a very real possibility that some percentage of the full-time MBA curriculum will need to be delivered remotely this coming fall. To what degree are incoming students amenable to online instruction?

We asked participants if they would be willing to enroll in a full-time MBA program if any portion of the curriculum were going to be delivered remotely. Sixty one percent of survey participants indicated that they were prepared to matriculate, 26% reported that they were unsure, and 13% indicated that they would not enroll.

Comparing U.S. respondents to international prospects, the former were significantly more amendable to the possibility of online learning, as reflected in the pie charts below:

Next, we asked participants how many months of remote instruction they would find acceptable at the start of their full-time MBA Programs. The mean response was 3.28 months (SD=2.48), and the median and modal responses were both 3 months.

Histograms representing the frequency of responses from U.S. (blue) and international (gold) respondents are presented below.
Histogram of responses from U.S. survey participants
Histogram of responses from international survey participants

It appears that most Fall 2020 MBA admits accept the fact that efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 might require them to complete a portion of their degrees online. But this acceptance may have a limit – as you can see above, very few participants indicated that they were open to more than 6 months of online instruction.

How do Fall 2020 MBA admits feel about the possibility of reduced international student representation?

Visa processing delays and region-specific travel bans may prevent some international students from relocating by the start of classes at U.S. schools. We asked survey participants how they felt about the possibility of reduced international student representation in the student bodies of their MBA programs.

Responses from U.S. and international participants are presented in the table below:

Hearteningly, the vast majority of participants noted that reduced student body diversity would detract from their MBA experiences. As was the case with the possibility of online instruction, U.S. students were more comfortable moving forward with matriculation given the chance of reduced international student representation than were international students.

Where are international students in their visa processes, and how might delays impact their Fall 2020 participation?

Additional survey items about visa progress and time zone impact on remote learning were presented to international students (N=229).

Only 5 percent of international prospects reported that they had already secured a student visa to begin an MBA program in Fall 2020. Of those who had not (N=219), 48% indicated that they were confident that they would be able to secure a visa in time to relocate for an MBA by September 2020. Meanwhile, 48% felt they would probably not be able to, and 4% believed they would definitely not.

Respondents were then asked what they will do if travel bans or visa delays prevent them from relocating by the time in-person instruction begins. A summary of their responses is presented in the table below:

To explore the impact of location on these preferences, we asked respondents how the time difference between their home countries and their target school’s location would impact their ability to engage in real-time remote classes.

  • 26.5% indicated that it would be convenient for them to participate in real-time remote classes
  • 48.2% reported that it would be challenging but manageable to participate in real-time remote classes
  • 25.7% responded that it would not be feasible to participate in real-time remote classes.

To understand how location might relate to international students’ contingency planning, we grouped participants based on their enrollment preferences in the event that they cannot relocate by Sept. 2020, and looked at their responses about the feasibility of real-time remote instruction:

Survey respondents who indicated that they would rather withdraw and reapply than complete coursework remotely were much more likely to be unable to to participate in real-time instruction with their U.S. classmates than those with a preference enroll this fall regardless of when they’re able to travel.

Participant Demographics

Respondents were recruited via the Clear Admit website, social media promotion, and outreach to our mailing lists. Fifty-three percent of participants (N=261) were U.S. citizens. Of these:

  • 59.4% identified as men and 40.2% as women
  • The average age was 27.7 (SD=2.4); the age range was 23-42
  • 68.2% identified as White, 24.1% as Asian, 6.1% as Hispanic/Latinx, 3.4% as African American/Black, and 0.8% as Native American/Alaska Native

Forty-seven percent of participants (N=229) were not U.S. citizens. There were 43 countries represented in the international student sample. Their demographic characteristics were as follows:

  • 67.0% identified as men and 32.6% as women
  • The average age was 28.9 (SD=3.1); the range was 22-41
  • 11.8% identified as White, 38.0% as South Asian, 24.0% as East Asian, 20.1% as Hispanic/Latinx,
    6.6% as African, and 1.7% as Middle Eastern

In terms of full-time work experience, 2.2% of respondents reported that they had less than two years of full-time work experience, 8.4% had between 2 and 3 years, 19.4% had between 3 and 4 years, 25.1% had between 4 and 5 years, and 44.9% indicated that they had 5+ years of full-time work experience.

Alex Kelly
Alex is Clear Admit’s Director of Content & User Research. 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.