Corporate demand rises again for MBA graduates

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, prospects are strong again for business schools and degree seekers.
By: | July 1, 2021
Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

Good news for business schools and students: Corporate recruiters are targeting MBA graduates as frequently as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, and interest in graduate management education programs is rising.

More than 90% of recruiters say their firms plan on hiring MBA students this year, according to a report released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which represents top graduate business schools. The majority also expect the strong outlook for MBA prospects to last for at least five years, with a third of American recruiters projecting hiring increases.

“As corporations recover from the pandemic and rebuild their workforces, it is no surprise that business school graduates—with their leadership and managerial skills in high demand—are specially strengthened to meet today’s economic challenges,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of the GMAC.

In fact, GMAC’s Corporate Recruiters Survey, done from late February to late March, shows that 96% of recruiters in the tech sector are looking to hire MBA graduates, a 16% rise in interest over the past two cycles, because tech industry leaders increasingly are equipped with business school degrees.

“Technology companies are placing a high value on leaders who are not just technically skilled but also have strong strategic, interpersonal, communication and decision-making skills, as well as an understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion and sustainability in their organizations,” said Peter Johnson, Assistant Dean of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “These will be critical to driving organizational growth and innovation.”

Though most recruitment trends point upward for MBAs, those who pursue degrees online still face challenges. Nearly 65% of recruiting firms do not place those candidates on an even par with those who attend brick-and-mortar schools. That gap is even more disparate among those in tech and consulting fields, which are in high demand among MBA candidates. Still, online degree pursuit is growing. More than 80% of programs are seeing more applications, according to the report.

The student perspective

Regardless of modality or location, the COVID-19 pandemic has not deterred students from pursuing GME. Most say they are not changing their original plans of study for the upcoming year, including international students interested in coming to the U.S. They are using multiple resources to research programs, with the majority checking school websites, followed by mba.com, friends and family, and rankings.

MBA and Business Masters seekers are prioritizing managing others and obtaining senior-level positions. The majority say they are interested in consulting, financial services and technology.

But most students, both domestic and international, say the No. 1 reason they’re pursuing GME is to make more money. And that promise is likely to happen, according to GMAC. Median MBA salary figures are expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels at around $115,000, which is nearly double that of bachelor’s degree holders. MBA grads also typically earn $3 million more in their lifetimes. Those pursuits all may be tied into what researchers have identified as a critical reason for their interest: they want to be more equipped to handle the ups and downs of an uncertain economy.

“COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted the future of work and the skills that are required for future success,” said Soojin Kwon, Managing Director of the Full Time MBA Admissions and Program at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and GMAC Board Director. “This is something that business schools are fully aware of and adapting to as candidates seek to upgrade their professional and leadership skills to meet the demands of the rapidly changing workplace.”