How COVID-19 Impacts MBA Applicants

By - Apr 6, 10:26 AM Comments [0]

No matter how this crisis ends, it’s safe to say that COVID-19 has produced one of the most profound tragedies and transformational events in our lifetimes. As the husband and brother of two physicians, the son of aging parents, and the father of two children, I have certainly felt the angst that this has caused, and I consider myself immensely fortunate that all of my loved ones are so far safe from it. More than anything, this is my deepest and most genuine takeaway from this crisis.

Nonetheless, I’m also a business owner who has, for 15 years, helped MBA applicants take an important step forward in their careers by earning admission into the school of their dreams. Before the crisis hit, we at Gurufi / FourthWrite had scripted out a video series, hired production crews, and were prepared to film a multi-part YouTube series on MBA personal statement writing. Shelter-in-place has made that impossible, but in this hard time, I still wanted to say a few words to people who are at various stages of applying to business schools.

Here are three thoughts:

1. Uncertainty rules. For both students who have been accepted into business schools and people who intend to apply in the coming year, we just don’t know what will happen. I will try to give my best guess as to what I think, but the fact is we don’t know if schools will start on time in the fall, if the timing of the admissions season will be altered, and if schools do open if a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall/winter will again grind the global system to a halt, including universities. The short answer is to “what will happen?” is, unfortunately, “wait and see.” Schools are planning for multiple contingencies, ranging from altered calendars, to exclusive online learning, to cancelation, to back-to-normal.

Things can induce as much anxiety as uncertainty, but the one thing that gives me some comfort is that everyone appreciates the scope of the crisis and most people and institutions will take a proactive, flexible, and humane approach to making sure every applicant and student is treated as best and as fairly as possible.

2. What if I’m applying to business school in the next year? Though there is conflicting opinion on this, but I think that business school applications are about to become more competitive. Business school applications have declined the last several years, meaning that the intense fight for slots at select schools was even tougher. I think that this trend will reverse, in large part because during economic downturns many people will view graduate and professional schools as a good place to wait out the storm and acquire new skills until the economy rebounds. 

 It’s not a perfect analogy, but in 2007 applications to business school and law schools had been declining for several years, but from 2008-2010 they skyrocketed as the economy tanked. Then, as the economy stabilized, the numbers of applicants to business and law schools began a decline that lasted several years.

This economic disruption likely means fewer lucrative job offers for early-stage professionals, fewer promotions and raises, etc. This means that people who want to continue their professional ascent will need to augment their skill set by earning graduate degrees. 

3. If you’re under stay-at-home orders, now is a great time to do some initial work… with an important caveat

There are two schools of thought for how to deal with the stay-at-home isolation that has with the coronavirus outbreak, either of which can be completely acceptable, depending on the person. 

Approach One: You’re forced to be indoors, so you use the time to be productive. If this is something you can do, then do it. Use the time to better yourself, prepare your application materials, investigate schools for fit and likelihood of admission, and study for your GMAT if you need to. This way, you’ll emerge from this crisis prepared to move assertively on your applications.

Approach Two: If you’re finding this period highly stressful or if the realities of your life (kids, job, parents, finances, etc.) make it impossible to do the kind of work that an application requires, then focus on your health and wellness and worry about applications later. These “if you don’t come out of this crisis with X, it’s not because you didn’t have time, it’s because you didn’t have the will” memes are wrong and, frankly, cruel to people for whom this crisis has placed extraordinary burdens.

If you do have the bandwidth to work on your application, here are my suggestions

  • Work on tasks that don’t necessarily require a lot of mental engagement. Everyone is distracted and drained, so do things like read about various programs, make lists prioritizing what you want in a business school, or make detailed timelines for yourself so that you spread the work out over time. 
  • Brainstorming is a fantastic way to generate content for your eventual personal statement AND to de-stress. There are lots of ways to brainstorm, but my favorite is the 12-minute timed write. It works like this: 1) clear a comfortable place for yourself to write. Ideally, it should be quiet and distraction-free. If you like writing with snacks or music, then, by all means, have those things. 2) Get a notebook if you can. There are some good studies talking about how handwriting -as opposed to typing- is better for spurring creativity. 3) Set a timer for 12 minutes. 4) The rules are: no matter what, you keep writing. If you feel a pause coming, have a phrase or mantra that you write over and over so that your hands don’t stop. Some people like affirmations like “I have an interesting story to tell!” and others like “A quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” because it uses every letter in the alphabet. But whatever your fallback phrase is, try to get back to writing relevant content quickly. Importantly, do NOT JUDGE what you’re writing, erase or scribble anything out. The purpose of brainstorming isn’t to generate refined elegant prose that is tightly organized and ready to present; it’s to start generating ideas and content, and to explore your thinking on a topic. 5) Commit to doing 3 days of brainstorming. Each day, select a different one of these topics:
  • Why am I a great candidate?
  • What will my life be life after business school?
  • What moments am I most proud of?

By committing just 12 minutes per day for 3 days, you will create many pages of content that you can use as the “bricks” for the building you intend to create.

In future posts, I’ll have some additional steps that you can take to maximize your time in social isolation. The most important “tip,” though is obviously to take care of yourself, focus on your health and wellness, and find ways to demonstrate appreciation to loved ones, particularly people who may be physically isolated or alone.

Brian Fobi is the CEO of FourthWrite / Gurufi. Gurufi and FourthWrite offer admissions writing consulting. If you have a draft that you're not sure about, have our experts revise and advise by going to Gurufi.com. If you don't have a draft or if you need more comprehensive services, check us out at FourthWrite.com/graduate

If you have questions, contact Brian at fobi@fourthwrite.com

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