Business School Deans Confirm: COVID-19 Continues to Boost Online MBA Applications |

Business School Deans Confirm: COVID-19 Continues to Boost Online MBA Applications

By Linda M

Updated May 4, 2021 Updated May 4, 2021

More and more activities continue to shift online - and business school degrees are no exception. Here's why online MBAs are experiencing a boost in applications.

From having to pivot in-person lectures and events online to implementing exceptional GMAT/GRE requirements and deferral policies for international applicants, COVID-19 has posed severe challenges to business schools across the globe.

However – while in-person MBA programmes have taken the biggest hit – it appears online MBA offerings have not only managed to survive the pandemic, but have also seen a significant increase in applications over the course of the past year.

TopMBA caught up with faculty from top business schools featured in the latest QS Online MBA Rankings 2021 to find out more about the impact of coronavirus on online MBA admissions.

An increase across the board

According to faculty from top business schools, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shifts to remote working accelerated candidates’ interest in flexible learning options, leading to a significant increase in applications to their online MBA programmes.

Professor Will Geoghean, Interim Chair of the Kelley Direct Online MBA at Kelley School of Business, said: “Kelley Direct Online MBA inquiries increased 28 percent year over year and first-phase programme applications increased by 41 percent. We saw a 46 percent increase in applicants accepting our offer of admission in Fall 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. This dramatic growth has continued and Fall 2021 is on track to match our Fall 2020 cohort.

“Although we have sustained increased enrolment over the programme’s existence, the pandemic has served to exacerbate this trend, perhaps as people have become more comfortable with remote work or due to fewer external commitments.”

Professor Pietro Micheli, Course Director for Warwick Business School’s Distance Learning MBA, says the school experienced a similar surge in interest.

He said: “The pandemic has seen demand increase significantly for our Distance Learning MBA. In fact, demand and final recruitment numbers have increased significantly for both the Warwick and London formats of our Distance Learning MBA, with the cohort starting in January 30 per cent bigger than last year’s as 249 people accepted a place. We are seeing a similar pattern for our June 2021 intakes with demand continuing to be extremely buoyant.”

Other schools reporting an increase in applications in 2020/2021 include Naveen Jindal School of Management, Imperial College Business School, MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business, Macquarie Business School, Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW, and Chapman Graduate School of Business at FIU.

Professor Lan Snell, Course Director of the Global MBA at Macquarie Business School, says that the pandemic also broadened industry representation within the programme’s cohort.

He said: “We have also seen some interesting shifts in terms of sector and functional representation from students enrolling in the Global MBA. For example, we see a growth of students enrolling from arts, health, and sport sectors as they seek to re-engineer and/or pivot their career. Professional musicians and actors who were significantly impacted by COVID-19 are seeking different options through the Global MBA, as are professional rugby players and coaches.”

Preparation continues to be key

According to Professor Federico Frattini, Dean at MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business, the COVID-19 pandemic forced business schools to rethink the extent of their digitalisation progress.

He said: “The business schools that were best prepared for this shift towards online learning had already demonstrated in the years prior to the pandemic that they understood that online teaching required educational models and approaches that are completely different from traditional methods – and at MIP Politecnico di Milano we were certainly prepared.”

Professor Markus Perkmann, Academic Director of the Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School, echoes this sentiment.

He said: “We have found that our Global Online MBA programme has been the least affected by the pandemic and we have therefore seen a very significant increase in applications.

“However, online MBAs like our Imperial Global Online MBA had already seen growing interest before the pandemic, and we will continue to see this growth trend after the worst of the pandemic is over. There is a difference in pedagogical design between programmes that have been designed for largely online delivery, and what would otherwise be full-time on-campus programmes that have adapted to remote delivery due to COVID. The Imperial Global Online MBA has been designed to optimise the MBA curriculum for online delivery.”

The importance of digital development opportunities

Another feature of online MBA programmes that all business schools’ representatives consider crucial to a programme’s success is the provision of online opportunities for personal and professional development.

Professor Monica Powell, Senior Associate Dean at Naveen Jindal School of Management, said: “The pandemic gave our programme the opportunity to build on more virtual engagement opportunities. Suddenly, engagement outside the classroom became very important to our students and they were asking for more co-curricular opportunities. We were creative in designing networking events that students would value and participate in.

“We have nuanced the student experience creating a nice blend between the technologies used to deliver the courses and the engagement formats between faculty and students. We have also figured out the formula to engage students in co-curricular opportunities, helping them balance their busy jobs, their personal lives and the MBA at the same time.”

Professor Nick Wailes, Director of the online MBA at AGSM, agrees. He adds that, during the pandemic, the school’s faculty and staff had to make changes to the programme to increase interaction between students.

He said: “We have traditionally delivered our online programme asynchronously, allowing students to study anytime and anywhere. During COVID-19, however, we noticed that students had more control over their schedule and really valued direct interaction, so we added synchronous options as well. They proved to be very popular.

“We [also] have made a very significant investment in career development in this programme. All students have access to on demand and one-to-one career support that is designed to help them clearly identify where they want to go next in their career and the skills and capabilities they need to develop.”

The future of online learning

Business school deans unanimously agree that online MBA programmes will continue to see interest grow in the future. However, they also believe schools must continue to invest in their development and offer increasingly hybrid learning methods.

Micheli said: “Certainly, technology is pointing to more education being done online, and the global pandemic may well have accelerated this trend. The flexibility of online helps people continue their education around their increasingly busy lives.

“However, I think increasingly it will be a combination of both online and offline to bring a truly immersive experience to students. Putting lectures on video means more time can be given to discussion and seminars where ideas and theories are analysed more. It also frees up time for more innovative learning such as using drama, acting out case studies, music, theatre, design, and other creative techniques to bring learning to life. This will also improve students’ interpersonal skills and leadership qualities, the soft skills that are needed to motivate and work within a team.”

He added: “This means constant innovation, experimenting and seeing how the blend between the digital and physical worlds affects the learning experience for students.”


This article was originally published in May 2021 .

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Written by

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 


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