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COVID-19 Intensifies Job Market Concerns for Prospective Business School Students

Posted by Rahul Choudaha
Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC. As an evangelist of graduate management education, he analyzes, presents, and writes to help business school professionals inform their admissions and marketing strategies. He has delivered over 150 conference presentations and has been quoted over 300 times in global media. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education administration.

Posted on May 6, 2020 11:00:00 AM

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How is the impact of COVID-19 on candidates of graduate management education (GME) shifting over time? GMAC’s survey snapshot to monitor the rapidly evolving effect of COVID-19 indicates that while the concerns about the job market are rising among prospective business school students, their aspirations to pursue GME are holding steady.


On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. The following week, TIME magazine’s cover summed up the impact with the headline—"When the World Stops." Indeed, the world suddenly "stopped" and affected many aspects of individuals’ lives, including career plans and related pathways, such as the pursuit of GME.

For many candidates, the dream of pursuing GME has been nurtured over months and even years. According to a GMAC survey snapshot of more than 1,000 GME prospects, however, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has amplified the concerns of candidates in a period of a few weeks. The proportion of candidates reporting very concerned or extremely concerned about the impact COVID-19 has on their pursuit of GME increased from 13 percent on March 15 to 35 percent by March 31, and then to 41 percent by April 15. While the concern level is high, the rate of increase between the second and third periods in the snapshot slowed.

How is this shift in concern impacting plans of GME candidates over time?

Concerns of job market intensify

One of the critical impacts of COVID-19 has been on the worldwide economy. IMF projections for the global economy show a sharp contraction by –3 percent in 2020, much worse than during the 2008–09 financial crisis. This risk of the global economic slowdown and its implications on future employment prospects is also affecting GME candidates.

May4 Blog Chart 1

Overall, the proportion of GME candidates reporting the job market as one of the areas of concern due to COVID-19 increased from 13 percent on March 15 to 33 percent by March 31. By April 15, the number rose to 50 percent.

In terms of differences by type of program, candidates preferring an MBA seem to be consistently reporting more concern about the job market as compared to those preferring business master’s in all three periods. One of the reasons could be that candidates preferring an MBA usually have more work experience as compared to candidates preferring business master’s, which in turn could make them more inclined to stay in their current jobs.

From the perspective of mobility, the concerns about the impact of COVID-19 has accentuated over time and does not seem to have an apparent difference between international candidates and domestic candidates. This suggests that job market concerns are top of mind for a majority of GME candidates, regardless of citizenship or geography.

GMAC is collecting information about how Business Schools are responding to COVID-19 and sharing it with prospective candidates.

Candidates consider delaying plans

The impact of COVID-19 is prompting some candidates to consider alternatives such as delaying their plans of pursuing GME. Overall, the proportion of candidates reporting delaying pursuit of GME as one of the alternatives they are considering due to the impact of COVID-19 increased from 17 percent from the first analysis on March 15 to 44 percent by March 31, reaching a peak of 51 percent on April 15. After a sharp increase in consideration of this alternative in the initial snapshot period, the percent increase has stabilized.

May4 Blog Chart 2

In terms of differences by type of program, candidates preferring MBAs (55%) seem to be slightly more likely than those preferring business master’s (48%) to report delaying pursuit of GME by April 15.

Looking from the perspective of mobility, international candidates (26%) were more likely to report delaying pursuit of GME as an alternative as compared to domestic candidates (7%) by March 15. Over the next two periods, the proportion of international candidates (47% by March 31 and 56% by April 15) considering delaying pursuit of GME continued to increase even though it seems to have stabilized for domestic candidates (43% by March 31 and 46% by April 15). Initially, only 7 percent of domestic candidates were not considering delaying pursuit of GME, however, that dramatically shifted over time, growing to 43 percent by March 31, before stabilizing to 46 percent by April 15. 

Aspirations for GME remains stable

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a rebound of the global economy in 2021, with a growth of 5.8 percent as economic activity normalizes. This projection scenario indicates that in the immediate term, extreme impact on the economy in 2020 is likely to subside in 2021.

May4 Blog Chart 3

Prospective students, too, seem to be concerned in the short term and yet remain committed to their aspirations for GME. Overall, the proportion of candidates reporting no longer pursue GME as one of the alternatives due to the impact of COVID-19 was less than 10 percent—increasing from 3 percent by March 15 to 8 percent by March 31 and remaining at that level through April 15.

While there is a slight increase in the proportion of candidates reporting no longer pursuing GME, there doesn’t seem to be significant variations by the segments over time. One noteworthy aspect is the slight decrease in the proportion of candidates preferring the MBA reporting, not pursuing GME from 11 percent to 8 percent. This suggests that some candidates are considering GME as a promising pathway in times of harsh economic climate.


The uncertainty and crisis caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted the state of the global economy and intensified over time. These factors are shaping the concerns of GME candidates about the evolving job market. While these concerns are affecting all segments of GME candidates there are some variations in terms of considerations of alternatives by citizenship (domestic or international candidates) and preferences of programs (MBA or business master’s). At the same time, survey indicators suggest that prospective students are not giving up on their aspirations for GME. As the impact of COVID-19 evolves, student considerations are likely to evolve too. It is critical for business school professionals to keep abreast of these changes and adapt their strategies in pursuit of enrolling a diverse and talented pool of students.

Are you looking for more information on GMAC’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19)? Find the most up-to-date information on the GMAT Online and the Executive Assessment Online exams plus receive updates related to other assessments, test center closures, the GMAC Annual Conference, the MBA Tour, and more here.

Do you have any questions or suggestions related to this blog or other GMAC Research? Please click here to reach us.

About the Survey

This blog series is a part of the GMAC initiative to monitor and respond to the rapidly evolving impact of COVID-19 on graduate management education. The analysis reported in this blog is based on 1,141 responses collected through the Prospective Student Survey between March 4 and April 15, 2020. This analysis compares responses across three periods of data collection-”March 15” (March 4-15), “March 31” (March 16-31), and “April 15” (April 1-15). The number of responses for various segments of candidates (e.g., international vs. domestic) and questions vary by period. The data for MBA and Business Master’s includes all modalities/formats. In this analysis, international candidates are defined as candidates whose preferred study destination is not their country of citizenship. The sample is primarily composed of prospective students who are actively applying (25%) and who are currently researching programs (36%). Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (62%) reported that they are planning to enroll in a graduate business program within the next 12 months. These findings are reflective of trends captured on and should be interpreted with caution in a rapidly evolving context of COVID-19.

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Research Insights

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