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Thanks to a slowing economy and the failure of a few business sectors, application volume continues to climb at many schools, as evidenced by the Graduate Management Admission Council's (GMAC) Application Trends survey. Those increases invariably lead to drops in acceptance rates.
GMAT registration and test-taking trends suggest there is no drop-off in volume between last year and this year's projected application pace. 2013-2014 is looking very much to be another highly competitive admissions season, even with a sluggish economy.
With the continued increase in application volume, competition for the static slots at the top b-schools will remain fierce.
B-School Applications Rise as Economy Falls
You may have noticed lately the economic-shaking news about a few Wall Street cornerstones collapsing or being bailed out. The economic news looks scary and many applicants wonder: does it affect my b-school chances?
Time and time again, it's been shown that in periods of economic stagnation, regression or recession that b-school applications go up. Why is that?
Many people feel that they can avoid the economic downturn by spending it furthering their education, graduating with a valuable degree just as the economy turns around. The net effect usually sees the newly-minted b-school graduate with a nice salary bump and a wealth of job opportunities in the newly revitalized marketplace.
Does it always happen that way? As with everything in life, there's no guarantee. It occurs far more often than not, however.
It does affect your b-school chances, though. With an increase in applications - and by all indications, apps are likely to be higher than last year - it goes without saying that your chances get that much tougher. Just because applications go up doesn't mean that b-schools open more slots; they're not. You're now competing in a greater pool of applicants than before, which makes it even more critical that you stand out from the crowd.
Continue to stay on top of job trends in the business world. It will do you no good to construct an application theme around a business sector that is falling on hard times. Be realistic about the career path you want to follow and make sure it's not a path that is sliding into harder times ahead. By being honest with your choice of direction, you're showing the admissions committees that you're aware of current events and trends and know what you're getting into.
So is it time to panic? Not at all. The bottom line on business school timing is that you should go for your degree when the timing is right for you. Your MBA education is one of the largest investments you'll make in your life. With a realistic look at your career path and answering some hard questions, you'll know whether the time to strike is at hand.
The Benefits of a B-school Education
Ironically, one reason that MBA applicant pools declined for several years in the early 'noughts' is that the economy was picking up. It's easier for people and companies to commit to business school when the economy is sluggish. When the economy is trudging along and growth is stagnant, employers are unable to find growth opportunities that allow their star employees to learn management or contribute to productivity. Consequently, the chance to spend two years at business school sharpening job skills, improving a résumé, and expanding networks looks attractive, both to prospective applicants and to their employers.
By contrast, when the economy is growing, prospective applicants may be faced with the prospect of giving up business opportunities if they want to go to business school. It can be a very difficult choice to make.
One way around this dilemma is to enroll in a part-time or executive MBA program. Part-time programs allow professionals to earn a degree by taking evening and weekend classes while working full-time. Executive MBA programs allow students with the right amount of work experience to earn a degree in as little as one year, through an intensive program.
Accelerated MBA programs are another option that can cut the amount of time needed to earn a graduate business degree. 4 of the top U.S. business schools now offer an accelerated MBA program that allows students to earn an MBA in just 12 to 16 months. These programs differ from EMBA programs in that they are open to applicants with less work experience. They can be an attractive choice for people who do not need an internship to achieve their career goals and who need to minimize the amount of time they spend away from the workplace.
The traditional two-year MBA program continues to offer unique advantages, though. It allows students to focus all their energy and intellect on their studies, and promotes network-building in a way that part-time and executive programs do not. Full-time programs also provide room for internships, which are increasingly important in the job market. (The GMAC Corporate Recruiter Survey, cited above, found that about a third of new MBA hires went to work for companies where they had interned). The two intensive "boot camp" years of a traditional MBA program will leave you well versed in such areas as finance, management, marketing, and strategy. You will also come away with a whole new way to analyze business issues and exposure to powerful techniques to help sell yourself to your full potential.
Moreover, an MBA can give you additional career flexibility and help you switch occupations. In fact, an MBA from a top business school can increase your earnings potential by over 150%. It would be pretty tough to do that by staying with your current employer for an additional 2 years – even in a booming economy!
MBA Career Choices
In the short term, an education from a top business school can help you gain valuable work experience with an employer such as a consulting firm, investment bank, or venture capital group. You will also have opportunities to work for a more "stable" Fortune 500 company in the business planning, investor relations, or corporate development departments.
In the long term, these valuable experiences can certainly help you position yourself for a senior-level management position. Even in the best of business times, an MBA is an excellent investment.
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