Is now the right time to get an MBA? 

“MBA degrees were originally designed for people without business degrees—doctors, engineers, architects—people in key leadership positions without any business preparation,” says Dr. Michel Delorme, dean of the Faculty of Management at Laurentian University. “Over time, MBAs became so popular that even people with a first degree in business wanted them.” These commonly include the four-year Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and Bachelor of Commerce (BComm). 

Business schools are working overtime this year to deliver the functional value of the MBA, including instruction in core disciplines like management, operations, marketing, human resources, accounting and finance. 

But why else are business degree-holders shelling out fees from $23,000 at University Canada West to $115,000 at Ivey Business School—and more than US$200,000 for an MBA from a top American school? 

For starters, the MBA continues to be a prerequisite for executives at major firms, especially consultancies and investment banks. Even Silicon Valley, once skeptical of the value of an MBA degree, has ramped up hiring as its startups and scaleups mature into corporate juggernauts with complex operational and management needs. A pre-pandemic survey by GMAC, the Graduate Management Admission Council, found that 80% of technology firms planned to hire an MBA graduate in 2019, compared to 82% of consulting firms and 77% of financial services firms. 

Then there’s the “MBA experience.” But this is one area in which the pandemic has had its greatest impact. While significant investments in technology and program design have helped preserve, if not enhance, in some cases, student collaboration and access to faculty, the ties that bind business schools to industry and international learning opportunities have been strained. 

“In-person info sessions are now online, and it’s harder to network on a Zoom call than at a cocktail party,” says Kathryn Donville at Ivey Business School. Donville misses the “accidental interactions,” insisting students must be more focused and deliberate about how they build their networks.   

The pandemic has also left international study programs hamstrung. Donville’s greatest disappointment this year was that her study abroad trip was cancelled. The experience is often so enriching for students that, in Europe, for example, leading business schools have made it compulsory for students to study in a different country and even learn a new language.  

Of course, prestige is another reason students pursue the MBA. This is what Donville refers to, in her case, as the “Ivey stamp”: proof of a high base-level of business knowledge and competency. And the degree seems to be retaining much of this symbolic value as it goes online. 

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