CHICAGO — Every year, about 75,000 students graduate with an MBA degree from approximately 700 schools around the country. In the spend-now-pay-later '80s, top graduates from the elite business schools could safely expect to be hired by top companies offering hefty salaries. The top-tier schools are still a good investment. But what's ahead for people in the hundreds of other MBA programs in the lean and mean '90s?
Students who insulate themselves from the realities of the current economic downturn are in for a rude awakening. They will emerge from the protective environment of business school into an extremely competitive job market, in which companies are cutting back their recruiting efforts as they pare excess capacity and downsize. This means students will have to spend more and more time looking for a job. And the time required will be even greater if the search is not industry-specific.
At the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the stagnant economy is causing many students to pay more attention to the kind of job they will land after college. You don't have to be an exceptional student or well-connected to line up a position after graduation. Students who pursue a strategic job-search plan will find the positions they are looking for. But more and more students are complaining that recruiters have been less willing to talk to someone without related work experience.
In response, students are placing a greater emphasis on securing a summer internship between their first and second year. Unfortunately, internships are one of the first programs to be cut by companies looking to reduce costs. At one time, top-tier business-school students weighed internship opportunities with as many as five companies. Today, they are fortunate to receive one opportunity through campus recruiting.
When you consider the cost of attending one of the top five schools ($60,000 for two years), coupled with the loss in potential earnings from employment, this can be discouraging. For students who attend business school because they want to change careers, it is an added burden.
In these times of economic downsizing, is business school worth it?
Understanding the reasons behind your desire to go back to school is essential. Getting an MBA from just any institution is no guarantee for career advancement. Choosing which school to attend requires lots of research. Talking to students at the schools where you are applying is also helpful in determining whether your goals coincide with the institution's.
In the absence of job experience, the reputation of the schools of your choice is critical. The days of abundant job offers to MBA holders are gone. With a more competitive job market, prospective students must weigh the cost of getting an MBA against the potential gain of having one. School reputation does heavily count in a company's appraisal of a job applicant. "Only go to the top five or 10 business schools to get an MBA," cautions one student.
But graduates from any business school should no longer regard an MBA as an automatic ticket to a bigger office, a fancier title or a larger salary. Rather, it is an opportunity to refocus energies toward career objectives and become more competitive a leaner job market. Ten years ago, MBAs were few and far between. Today, MBAs are plentiful. And hard economic times make the task of distinguishing oneself that much more difficult.