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What Can MBA Applicants Expect During the Upcoming Admissions Season?

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The Upcoming MBA Admissions Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced students and schools worldwide to change plans and adapt in the midst of a constantly shifting health and economic crisis. The consequences of those changes and adjustments will have an impact on MBA admissions for the foreseeable future. As the murky post-pandemic world begins to come into focus, many prospective students are wondering what they can expect from the upcoming 2021-22 business school admissions season.

It’s no secret that the pandemic caused economic distress and made in-person instruction challenging, if not impossible.  It also put a damper on the prospect of travel for international study. Meanwhile, b-school applications for the 2020-21 admissions cycle soared to near record numbers, as often happens when the economy takes a downturn. Increased volume in applications means fierce competition in the admissions domain – with many applicants failing to make the cut at their dream school or landing on numerous waitlists. The question now, as applicants examine their career prospects, potential for top MBA programs, and their resources, is what to do next. In short, will the upcoming admissions cycle once again be incredibly competitive?

MBA applicants are seeking answers on channels like Clear Admit’s MBA Livewire, resulting in some excellent discussion. “It was a really tough year for applicants. Congratulations to all those who got in. I am thinking about reapplying for the next year,” shared one prospective student. “Given the rebound in the economy and rapid pace of vaccination, especially in the USA, things are expected to mostly return to normal, which in turn might see a downward shift in volumes…but if last year has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t predict anything.”

The reality of how the pandemic affected admissions is not lost on applicants. “Think about the domino effect from deferred candidates and how a lot of top schools may have had less space – it could have made some people pause their MBA efforts until next year,” said one poster. “…I think it is going to be as competitive the next year, if not more,” added another Livewire user. “The uncertainty is definitely there and we never know which way the winds will shift.”

Others are weighing factors like age and timing, with one poster noting, “I’ll be 32 when school starts and I pretty much have to go this year, but if I was 28 with my 5 waitlists, I’d definitely wait another year or two.”

The Current Competition

The 2020-21 admissions cycle has been very competitive. This is in part due to COVID’s disruption of the 2019-20 cycle, where many admitted students – both domestic and international – had to change plans or defer altogether. Many schools offered more flexible options resulting in a record number of deferrals. Risk-averse applicants took that opportunity to put off pursuing their MBA altogether until the threat had passed. This year is seeing many of last year’s deferred applicants taking their places. As conditions improve and colleges and universities return to in-person instruction and activities, expect increased demand from applicants who waited to apply.

Floundering economies resulted in a surge of applications, a common historical trend reflecting the relative safety of enrolling in school when businesses are struggling. Applications in 2020-21 soared at top-tier schools and are expected to remain high.

In short, having a large population of deferred enrollees, coupled with a rise in applications overall and the slow removal of obstacles to international travel is presenting prospective students with a highly competitive environment.

What to Expect in the Upcoming Admissions Season

Eliot Ingram, Co-Founder, and CEO of Clear Admit, has a unique perspective on the MBA landscape – based on more than twenty years of working in the graduate management education domain. For one, the impact of the pandemic on specific industries has the potential to shift the career goals of those who are being forced to change jobs. Though most sectors suffered losses in 2020, one big winner to emerge was the tech industry. Many applicants who were considering an MBA to facilitate a career transition will likely take this opportunity to do so and join tech.

“I believe that the 2021-22 admissions season will be as competitive as the 2020-21 admissions season. In particular, I expect that we will see both an increase in the supply of available seats (because there will be fewer seats taken by deferring applicants) as well as an increase in applicant demand. Thus, I believe that both supply and demand will increase and thus next admissions season is likely to be as competitive as this year.”

Ingram has some advice for applicants, saying, “Given given how competitive things are, if someone got into one of their target schools this season, but not their top choice, they would probably do well to take the offer rather than risk it all and reapply in the upcoming admissions season.  The only reason to reapply again next year would be if a candidate can materially improve their application.”

Many travel obstacles are being removed thanks to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, but progress around the world varies. In addition, the current administration has a different attitude toward immigration and visas, potentially restoring more international students’ access to US MBA programs.

“Regarding international students, I assume that US business schools are more likely to be operating on a normal schedule this fall relative to business schools in other countries with lagging vaccination rates,” says Ingram. “Since most students prefer in-person educational experiences, this could cause increased demand for US business schools from international students.”

Overall, conditions are right for increased competition in the MBA applicant pool for the foreseeable future. As always, stay tuned to Clear Admit for continuing coverage of application volume and be sure to make use of our social tools – such as LiveWire to stay on top of the very latest word from the applicant community.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.