My clients have begun to ask me what applying to business school during the Covid-19 pandemic means for their applications and whether or not it mightn’t be better to wait till round 2 or until next year. There’s no doubt that coronavirus is changing life was we know it and that includes MBA programs and the MBA admissions process. But within every crisis is also the seed of opportunity. This is my advice for how to apply to business school this year as the world is fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Don’t panic. The pandemic won’t last forever, but an MBA still does.
These are interesting times we’re living in. The current global health crisis is forcing us all to reprioritize the things that really matter to us. And it’s forcing all of us – everyone across the globe – to come together and make choices that benefit all of humanity while perhaps subverting our own immediate goals and conveniences.
I, for one, am optimistic that although there will be much loss in the coming months, solving this problem together will make humanity stronger, more connected, and more universally compassionate and responsive to the needs of the rest of life on earth. It may change a lot of things in our daily lives, perhaps permanently, but such changes are just part of life and sharing our small planet with 7 billion other humans and countless trillions of animals and plants.
Change is nothing to shy away from. In fact, if you’re interested in pursuing an MBA in the first place, you’re seeking it because you want a positive change in your life – you want more responsibility, more income, more impact. You want your career to grow and flourish. Times of trouble will come and go, but the drive inside you to grow and make a difference in the world won’t. That drive is here to stay.
So if you were planning to apply to business school this year because it serves your future goals, then do it. Don’t let a little thing like a global health crisis hold you back. Top MBA programs certainly won’t. They are well-established and for the most part well-funded organisms that have a life of their own. They, just like you, will do their best to survive these troubled times unscathed. That means that although there will no doubt be temporary setbacks and changes, the MBA will go on and it will continue to be a huge opportunity for professional advancement for the right candidates.
So keep pursuing your dreams even as the circumstances in the world are constantly changing.
Stay the course. Applications may be down, creating more opportunity for you.
Not everyone will follow the advice I just gave. As international borders close temporarily, stock markets waiver, and the global flows of information, goods, and people are interrupted, many people will shy away from investing in themselves. They will also decide they’re not up for the risk that pursuing an MBA entails.
Will visa situations in the US change in the coming years? Will there be prolonged restrictions on global travel? Will schools seek to move more classes online, altering the student experience in a (presumably) negative way? Only time will tell. But these are problems that won’t emerge for months if not years in the course of your life.
Still, many people will use these uncertainties as an excuse or reason not to apply to business school. If I were a gambling woman, I would bet that applications will be down much more this year even than last. And that means that the people who stay the course and apply anyway, braving the odds that something might change for the worse in the future, will have an ever better chance of gaining admission. That is, until a recession hits and employees flock to business school. If I were you, I'd work towards Round 1 and not look back.
My personal philosophy is that you have to take life one bridge at a time. If you’re applying to business school, the challenge in front of you right now is how to submit your very best application so you can gain admission to the best schools for you. Once you get into school, then the challenge becomes how to best set yourself up for success during school. And then very shortly thereafter, the next bridge is how to get the best internship and full time job for you. Cross each bridge when you come to it, not before (except the recruiting one – that one you should always be working on – see below). Things are always changing and when the moment comes to confront a challenge, you will know what to do. But worrying about the unknown before you get there is, well, just that, useless worrying.
If visa situations change, the time to deal with that is after admission or during recruiting. Remember, you always have the option not to go to business school even if you get in. But if you want an MBA, this is as good a year as any to apply. Possibly the best year yet.
Use this period of social isolation to self-reflect.
In most parts of the world, organizational and social activities are slowing down or grinding to a screeching halt. We’re all being asked to spend as much time alone and physically away from others as possible. If you haven’t starting doing this yet, please read this article by an Italian doctor on the front lines of one of the countries worst-affected by coronavirus so far and this one by Mark Manson explaining why – for the good of all humanity – it’s time for us to turn inward and confront solitude.
A hallmark of Career Protocol MBA application coaching is our You Discovery Process™. We ask our clients to spend hours digging really deeply into their lives, experiences, values, and preferences. It’s a true luxury to invest your own time in understanding yourself better. And in fact, this is one of the very most important steps you can take to strengthen your MBA candidacy: augment your self-awareness at this critical turning point in your career.
So what better time to turn inward than during this window of imposed social isolation. Set aside some hours in the coming weeks to answer some big questions about your life. If you work with us, we’ve got a whole raft of questions to systematically guide your inquiry. But if you want a place to get started, here are some great ones:
- Why do I really want an MBA? What value will it offer me that I can’t get anywhere else?
- And then why is that value important to me? (this is just digging deeper beneath the surface of the previous answer)
- What are the 4-5 key accomplishments that have defined my career and why?
- What are the 4-5 key experiences that have defined my world view and approach to life and my career?
- What are the 2-3 core values that drive my daily choices and where did those values come from?
- What do I really want to do post-MBA and in the subsequent 5-10 years?
- How do I want to make my mark on this world?
- What kind and level of impact will make it worth it for me to spend half of my waking hours for the next 30 or so working instead of spending time with family and friends or vacationing in beautiful Italy (which is gonna have an awesome comeback, you watch!)?
Get to know your target schools in creative ways.
Most if not all top MBA programs worldwide will be cancelling live in person classes for the remainder of this school year. This means no campus visits. So if you want to show schools you are serious about their programs and you want to get to know in a very detailed way which schools are the best fit for you, you’re going to need to resort to creative measures to do so.
The place to start, of course, is the internet. Start with our advice on creative ways to connect with MBA programs. In that article we outline a vast variety of ways to build connections with schools outside of visiting campus.
Be sure to subscribe to schools’ newsletters and blogs. Most programs will be seeking new and creative ways to give applicants insight into their programs, including webinars, AMAs, online summits, and virtual campus tours. I am actually excited to see all the creative ways schools make themselves available for connection without the need for candidates to visit campus. So be sure you’re the first to hear about these cool opportunities, and then join as many of them as you can.
Don’t be afraid to do some of your own networking. Leverage your personal network, LinkedIn, and school blogs and club leadership pages to connect virtually with members of school communities. Conduct informational interviews and keep in touch with the people you e-meet. Be respectful of their time, but don’t be afraid to make your own inroads to campus relationships. This is something you should be doing even during the best of times.
And finally, use the money you would save visiting campus to invest in yourself in other ways. Get that GMAT tutor to help you achieve your best possible score. Take some remote finance or accounting classes or HBX CORe to bolster your quant profile. Invest in an awesome admissions coach. Talk to us if you think we might be the right team for you!
Prepare for video interviews instead of live in-person ones.
Other than shutting down campus activity, we can expect the interview process to change this year. Depending on how long the recommended period of social isolation lasts, schools may seek to conduct interviews via Skype, video call, or even phone this year instead of in person.
If you’ve ever had a video or phone interview, you know they can be much more stressful than live in person conversations because all of the normal social and nonverbal clues are lacking or compromised. It’s much harder to create a warm feeling of personal connection with someone whose hand you can’t shake.
This means you’ve got to be ready to shine even under this more stressful context. Start with my bestselling book about interviews, Interview Hero. This will prepare you with the right mindsets and frameworks to prepare your answers for even the toughest questions. Think through your best stories. Make some strong choices beforehand about which experiences you want to spotlight, and then outline your answers and practice a little bit.
Then set up your camera situation and do a practice interview or two with a friend or colleague. Make sure you’ve had practice answering questions staring at your computer screen with a little image of yourself talking on it so that when showtime comes you’re not freaked out by this contrived and strange conversational circumstance. Do the same thing via phone only if a phone interview turns out to be in your future.
You might even want to take a video or two of yourself so you can understand how to best position your eyeline to help your personality shine through. It’s always important to smile during a 1:1 conversation – at least from time to time. How can you bring your natural sense of humor and warmth into a cold video-based discussion? A little practice and you will feel much more comfortable doing so.
Get ready NOW for MBA recruiting
This Poets&Quants article outlines some grim and likely accurate predictions about the future of MBA recruiting after the COVID-19 pandemic. The most likely scenario is that companies will curtail recruitment in the next year or possibly two or three as the American and global economies shrink in the wake of the economic slowdown required to stem the spread of the virus.
But this doesn't have to affect you. Even in times of mass unemployment, people still get jobs, and some people get more than one. That's what happened to me and my classmates. It was tough, but we found jobs despite the fact that recruiting had been cut way back from prior years.
Preparing for MBA recruiting – if you do it right – should be like a full-time class that starts the moment you get admitted and runs until you have your summer internship offer in hand. I recommend starting before you get admitted. Do some serious work to home in on your Career Game Plan now. Conduct informational interviews with companies you're interested in and start building relationships now. Create Plan Bs and Cs – really think about how you will bridge the MBA to your longer term ambitions.
And if you work with us, you'll get to take Interview Hero, YOMO (You Only MBA Once – the premier class for pre-MBAs to prep for MBA recruiting) and SPITR (Case Interview Hero) so you're ready to crush recruiting even in more challenging times.
One last tip
Be kind to yourself and to your people. These are trying times to say the least. It’s not easy to be separated physically from loved ones. It’s not easy to confront daily bad news for all humanity. And it’s not easy to face so much uncertainty about our future, our world, and the well-being of ourselves and loved ones.
In my experience, a really good remedy for the fear uncertainty brings is kindness. Be good to yourself. Say kind things in your self-talk. Remember what’s great about you and don’t lose faith in that. And make a little extra effort to show the people you love that you love them, even if you have to do that via text message. Little daily deeds like this will keep the sun shining on you during these dark times.
I am wishing you all the best of health, happiness, and MBA application success.
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