We get lots of questions from applicants about the best time to return to business school. While this is certainly an individual assessment, and one size does not fit all, from an admissions perspective, there are good seasons and bad seasons to maximize your odds of acceptance.
Six years ago, during a time none of us will soon forget, the air was let out of the economy. A similar rushing sound was also heard in the country’s top business schools, but it was the sound of people rushing in. Applications peaked the next year as everyone ran to hide from old man recession for two years in hopes the job market would come back while they were getting smarter and checking the graduate school box.
Simple mathematics demonstrated even to the casual observer that as the applicant pool increased, the odds of getting in went down. We saw the competitive nature of an already very competitive arena turn quickly into a bloodbath: GMAT scores rose, applications overwhelmed admissions officers, and thousands of perfectly qualified applicants were denied their dream schools. As Wharton said, “Everyone who applies here is qualified, so we have the luxury of being choosy.” Suddenly every unsuspecting 27 year old applicant was competing with top performing bankers, accountants and consultants from the best firms, many of whom were laid off in the throes of the great recession. Business schools had the proverbial pick of the litter.
Things did not get better quickly in the economy, so for about four years, or two full time MBA cycles, this phenomenon perpetuated. As the frozen GDP began to thaw, however, and people began to find jobs again, the applications to MBA programs started to wane. Suddenly everyone seemed to value their jobs, ostensibly from either having lost it temporarily, or come close enough to feel the fear of losing it, so giving it up voluntarily to return to grad school did not seem as appealing. Running and hiding was no longer necessary. So goes the business school admissions cycle.
Fast forward to now, and consumer sentiment is back on track, the stock market is humming and jobs are finally fairly easy to get. And guess what? Your odds of getting into your dream school are better. It’s always tough to be a contrarian. Swimming upstream is never easy, but things in life worthwhile rarely are. If you have the stomach to sit out a couple of years of percolating markets, you might just find your way into a school where a couple of years ago, you would not have had a chance. Business cycles are pretty reliable, and the chances of another big downturn so soon after the last one are slim. This means two or three years from now, the job market will likely be even stronger, which would time out well with your graduation. So dust off your GMAT score and get back on the horse. The time to apply is nigh!
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Scott Bryant has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Veritas Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons.