Is Now a Good Time to Apply to Business School?

Yes. Now is the perfect time to apply to business school. You may never have a better opportunity to get in.

The Pandemic

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, business schools are allowing accommodations that I've never seen before. Many are extending their round 3 deadlines until well into summer (they usually end in April), and a few (including Kellogg!) are allowing round 3 applicants to apply without having taken the GMAT. I never thought I would see a top-tier business school drop the GMAT requirement.

What this means is that some of you might want to apply now — right now! My personal opinion is that Kellogg is the fourth greatest business school on earth; I've sent tons of my students there over the years and know the program well. And right now, for a limited time, you have the chance to be admited without having to dominate the GMAT. If you feel you're weak at standardized tests and might have a hard time being admited to Kellogg next year when the GMAT requirement is reinstituted, now would be a good time to take your shot.

Will Applications Rise or Fall?

They will definitely rise.

History shows that applications to business schools are countercyclical — they rise when the economy falls, and they fall when the economy rises. I saw it firsthand in the economic downturn of 2008. My GMAT classes filled up with students who had recently been laid off by their companies, and applications to top schools swelled. It simply made sense to return to school rather than seek employment in a job market with little to offer.

The same will happen with the economic downturn we're entering now. Unfortunately, many young professionals will lose their jobs and there will be few options for employment. Given that reality, it makes sense to return to school to upgrade professional skills and emerge into a stronger economy at a higher level of responsibility.

The only question is, when will it happen? When will the coming layoffs start to drive candidates into buiness school? I doubt that many will take advantage of the extended round 3 deadlines and apply to enter school in the fall of 2020. But the class entering in the fall of 2021 should see a significant bump, and the trend may continue into the following year.

What About Internatioal Applicants?

I honestly believe that now is the best time in history for international applicants to apply to top American MBA programs. We all know that Donald Trump's ugly behavior toward foreigners has scared off international applicants to American colleges at all levels — grad and undergrad. That alone has created opportunities, as MBA admissions officers scramble to find enough international candidates to fill critical seats. But now the Covid crisis is dropping numbers even further. I anticipate a true international disaster at elite business schools, as candidates from overseas sit this year out.

That creates an opportunity. So few international candidates will apply that admissions standards will fall for that category, and students who would have been rejected in previous years will be admitted. So for this year and, perhaps, the next, international candidates have a unique opportunity.

I know what you're thinking, though. This pandemic is real and I don't necessarily want to be taking my chances living at a college in America while the battle rages.

I agree. But I see a couple mitigating factors. First, American colleges are very concerned with student safety. They won't put a bunch of students in a room if they believe that doing so is unsafe. So you shouldn't worry about compromising your safety for your degree. If it's not safe, classes will be held online and accommodations will be made.

And second, you can defer your admissions offer. Doing so is sometimes tricky and I wouldn't normally suggest you rely on it, but given the situation the world finds itself in, I can't imagine a business school denying a deferral request. Ironically, some schools are already offering deferrals for any admitted candidate who is concerned about safety or who needs to stay home to care for family members. These open offers of deferral are new and yet another sign that we're experiencing a remarkable year for MBA applicants.

The Bottom Line

Now is a great time to apply to business school. That's true for American and international applicants. But as the economic downturn takes its toll on employment, competition for seats at America's top MBA programs will increase significantly, and you'll wish you had applied sooner.

Apply soon. And between now and your application, work to improve your profile as a candidate. Elsewhere on this website, I'll write about how to do that.