MBA Trends: A Look Back At The Past Ten Years
Maria |
October 12, 2022

As we commemorate the ten-year milestone of Caroline’s Fortuna Admissions, let’s take a look back at the trends from the previous ten years. In this episode, we are going to look back at what it’s been like for MBAs and the industry for the past decade. Let’s answer some of the questions you probably haven’t thought of;

  1. Have you ever wondered what it was like to apply to business schools ten years ago?
  2. Were classroom discussions significantly different given that diversity and gender parity are much apparent?
  3. What significant changes have occurred with regard to career goals?
  4. What progress has been made in the last ten years toward reducing prejudices, biases, and stereotypes?

And why do Maria and Caroline, two of our hosts who had been working as consultants for years, concur that the video essay has significantly altered the admissions process?

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.140] – John

Well, hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co host Caroline Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich Villa. I want to acknowledge something that is always a big landmark for a company. It is Fortuna’s ten year anniversary. Ten years ago, Caroline created Fortuna with Matt Simons, who was our partner in our center court venture, as well as Judith Silverman Odera, who had been the former acting admissions director at Wharton and built quite a formidable firm in those past ten years. They recently were joined by Pete Johnson from Berkeley, who ran the MBA program, which is a big deal. So congratulations, Caroline.

[00:00:59.460] – Caroline

Thank you so much, John. Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been ten years. It’s really flown past.

[00:01:04.990] – John

So I’m going to use your anniversary as an opportunity to talk about what’s happened in the last ten years in the MBA market. Obviously, we’ve been through a period of a lot of turbulent change, a lot of recessionary ups and downs, the Pandemic, changes in personnel at different schools, part of which we mentioned last week, the ups and downs of rankings, the greater mix of international applicants, particularly since the Trump administration has gone bye bye in America. If you were to reflect on what it was like ten years ago when you started Fortuna and what it’s like today, what would you say?

[00:01:45.110] – Caroline

There’s definitely some changes in how schools are approaching admissions, and one of the things that has emerged over the past few years that has become more common is the use of video questions and then, of course, zoom interviews right. Which took off massively with the Pandemic when everything turned online overnight. So schools have been leveraging virtual technologies much more in the admissions process. And I think that’s great because it gives more people access, right. If you have virtual interviews, then it really gives people access all over the world from any location. They don’t feel the pressure to travel to far flung campus to have an equal chance. And then I think the video questions give candidates another means to communicate with the school. So not everyone is great at putting their story down on paper. And it’s useful for the schools to be able to see how people communicate using different media right. And also to get a glimpse of how the candidate communicates, get a sense of their personality, which you could sometimes get on video in a different way than you can get on paper. So I think that’s been an interesting and valuable evolution.

[00:03:13.540] – Caroline

And then over the past years, we’ve also seen greater emphasis on equity and access and increasing the diversity of programs. So, of course, a big thing of the past years has been the increase in women and the representation of women in MBA programs, with some schools reaching parity, and hopefully that trend will continue. And then it redoubled efforts by the schools to increase the representation of different groups, and especially underrepresented minorities on programs. So I think all of that has been very much to the benefit of the programs. Right. I think having an interesting mix of people and a diverse mix of people in the classroom is hugely valuable to everybody who is there and increases the richness of the learning experience for all of the students. So that’s been a very positive evolution, I think.

[00:04:17.790] – John

Maria, what’s your take on the trends in past ten years?

[00:04:21.090] – Maria

Yeah, as we were getting ready to record, I started making my own little list and the first word I wrote down was video. So I agree with Caroline that I think the addition of video has really made a huge difference and I think it will continue to grow and it’s important. I think the good news about video is. Caroline said. Is that it gives candidates a chance or an opportunity to shine versus before they may not have been able to when they were simply two dimensional friends on paper. As I think Mary Derek Bolton used to refer to them two dimensional people on paper. And now they become more actual people when you see them on a video. I also think that it helps certain candidates, not helps them, but it makes certain candidates not look as good, which is actually a good thing, I think, from an admissions perspective, in terms of helping admissions offices with their efficiency, I do think that in the past, a lot of people would look perfect on paper. They would look wonderful and witty and warm and fluent in English on paper, and then you would do an interview with them and they were none of those things.

[00:05:23.660] – Maria

I think the video is a great chance to bring, I think, authenticity into the process. Right. And I think it helps prevent some people I mean, it’s bad news for them, but these are people who probably would not have gotten in beyond the standard interview anyway. And so being able to do that preliminary, get a sort of a preliminary glimpse of them through the video portion of the application saves a lot of people a lot of time, and I think it does allow some diamonds in the rough to get through who may not have otherwise been able to. Another big change I’ve seen over the past ten years has been in career goals. Traditionally, banking consulting, consulting, banking, banking consulting. Those were the two big things. And everything else out there was sort of ancillary and I think the rise of tech as a viable career path, tech as a well paying career path. And then alongside that, more and more and more and more emphasis on entrepreneurship. Right. I think entrepreneurship was something that all business schools used to touch upon, but the idea was usually like, okay, this is something you might eventually do 30 years from now.

[00:06:24.340] – Maria

And now I think schools are acknowledging that maybe people might want to jump into that path a little bit sooner, maybe not immediately after school, because they’ve got those student loans to pay back after all, but they’re certainly tailoring their programs more and more to at least develop an entrepreneurial mindset in students. And I think the message is that of, look, you might not be ready to do this in two years, but maybe in five years or ten years as opposed to 40 years from now. So I think that’s great. Another change that I’ve seen, and this might be a little bit controversial, and I would love to get Caroline’s take on this, although she is the queen of diplomacy. So I also respect I also completely respect if Caroline wants to I like that.

[00:07:02.820] – John

The queen of diplomacy.

[00:07:04.960] – Maria

Oh, my gosh, she is.

[00:07:08.960] – Caroline

That’s what my mother in law would say about me.

[00:07:14.060] – Maria

I will not provide a comment on this setting, but we can talk about this before we stop recording. I think that there has definitely been a generational shift. I think, you know, those of us who either employ younger people or work with younger people, you know, ten years ago, it was all about the millennials, and now we’re talking more and more about Gen Z. And I think the good news is that I do think that more and more students are having a genuine interest in social good being some part of their future, even. Maybe they don’t go into the nonprofit field, per se, but I think I’m definitely seeing a more genuine interest in pursuing a career that is not going to necessarily destroy the planet, et cetera. And so I think that that is a very positive thing. I do think, though, the difference in parenting style, my husband and I talk about this because he has young people who work for him, and so we are sometimes comparing notes. And I think the millennials, if I understand correctly, the management articles of wringing our hands about them was that they had a bunch of helicopter parents.

[00:08:21.970] – Maria

And I think for Gen Z, the term has been changed to bulldozer parents. So it’s literally people whose parents it wasn’t just like, I’m going to hover over you like a helicopter parent and make sure that you’re doing your homework and make sure that you’re getting your stuff in on time. But the bulldozer parents are literally like, I will like, what’s that? You have an obstacle. I am going to get it out of your way. So I have actually had I started having parents. I mean, it’s a little bit it’s not great, guys. I’ve had parents reach out to me and be like, I’m considering buying Albigant Lap for my child. Do you think it’s good for them? And I’m like, Your child is 28 years old. I didn’t even tell my parents I was applying to business school. They had no idea until I got in. And so I’m seeing that that’s just one example. But that is sort of filtering its way through where I am seeing this younger generation is perhaps more used to having adult figures in their lives, sort of save them, like, okay, here is exactly what you need to do, and here is there’s less of an independent streak, I have found.

[00:09:25.910] – Maria

And I do wonder if that’s sort of a generational bit less. Obviously, this is not everyone. Not all genders, of course, but a little bit less on average inability to sort of make logical inferences or more of like, I want everything spelled out exactly for me, and if it’s not, I’m going to be frustrated or lost.

[00:09:50.590] – John

Is that more of an American phenomena or is it global?

[00:09:56.510] – Maria

I don’t know about I mean, I definitely think it is more American, but it’s certainly not I have not only seen that in American clients, I also think because the war on talent sort of simultaneously there has been such a big war for not war on talent. Sorry, I mean, the war for talent has meant that more and more employers over the past couple of years have been more willing to put up with things like, oh, I need to take a day off because I rescued a baby duckling on the side of the road and I need to go you think I’m joking? My husband had someone in his company once a couple years ago, say, guys, I found an orphaned duckling on the side of the road and I’m taking tomorrow off because I need to go take it to a duck sanctuary in San Diego. And my husband’s like, you can do that on a weekend. Like, that is what weekends are for. But this was a younger employee and they’re like, no, this is really important for me, and just because you’re my.

[00:10:47.860] – John

Employer put that duck in your bathtub.

[00:10:49.930] – Maria

Yeah, put in a bathtub, give it a couple of worms, pick up some worms from the yard, it will be fine. I mean, the poor duck, right? But it’s this sort of thing where, like, employers I think ten years ago my husband would have been like, no, you are coming to work the thing we pay you to do. And now employers are. So everyone has to sort of tiptoe around these demands, which is good in some ways, right? I think it’s making employers in general more less we own you 24/7, which I think is good for all people. But it’s definitely been I think it’s a cultural shift that is resonating throughout the corporate world and therefore also throughout the MBA admissions world. And I would love to talk to people who are currently working at MBA programs to see if it is also rippling its way through the student experience once they are on campus.

[00:11:42.190] – John

I think the other thing we’ve seen in the last ten years, there’s a reduction in what you might call friction in the application process. And by that I mean, too many essays. So most many schools have reduced the number of essays that they require of their applicants in the past ten years. And many more schools are either test optional or are more generous in waiving standardized tests than had been ten years ago. Some of this is a reflection of the pandemic. Many of these changes are brought in at that time, along with probably the acceleration of video interviewing because people couldn’t travel or see people in person during the interview phase of the application process. But don’t you sense that schools have tried to make it a little bit easier for people to apply to their MBA programs?

[00:12:36.340] – Caroline

Caroline yes, that’s definitely been a conscious effort by the schools to be able to reach out to more people. And as you said, partly it was the pandemic that they had to be much more flexible in a way that they hadn’t considered being before. And to a certain extent that has continued because they saw the benefits of giving increased access and breaking down some of the barriers. So, yeah, I would agree that there has been overall reduction in the length of the applications, although it has gone back and forth a little bit with some schools taking out essays and then adding in some mini essays, which is sort of hidden in the application form. And I think that the reduction in the length of the application can be a double edged sword because sometimes I think it gives candidates less scope to tell their story in all its dimensions. And whilst it may look less intimidating when you start working on it, sometimes it’s more challenging because you have to leave so much out if you have a short application, and trying to figure out how to manage that filtering process and what to focus on can be difficult.

[00:13:57.580] – Caroline

So I’m not sure that having a shorter application always makes it easier.

[00:14:02.440] – John

Yeah, that’s true. Absolutely. The other thing here is the increased numbers of women in MBA programs. There are a number of programs that are now at gender parity. That was definitely not true ten years ago, and I wonder how it’s changed the classroom discussion. Maria, do you think it’s actually changed the discussion that goes on in classrooms to have more women in those courses than there had been before?

[00:14:30.710] – Maria

It may, but I would hesitate to say to go so far as to say that a female student would contribute something different in sort of the academic discourse. Right. I think if a woman comes from the private equity field and goes to business school, I would assume that she would be giving very similar contributions to the classroom discussion. As a male who worked in private equity. I do think, though, that I think the benefit of having more women in the classroom is the same as having underrepresented minorities, which is when you are in situations with people like a classroom and you get to see their thought process, and you get to see their intelligence. If you go into that process as someone who perhaps was like, oh, women can’t be in business, or this is what Hispanics are like, someone with a name like Maria Vila boy, I have a bunch of assumptions about what she’s like based on that. Seriously. But if you’re in a classroom with them and they have that visibility to your thought process and to your work ethic and all of those things, I do think that it helps mitigate perhaps prejudices and stereotypes and biases, because now you’ve got data of seeing people who may fall into one of these categories, and you’ve got data seeing them actually excel.

[00:15:43.660] – Maria

So I think that that’s the ultimate benefit of having women. I don’t know if, like, a woman would necessarily I mean, sure, of course there may be a little bit like, oh, I need more flexi. I think I might need more flexibility in my future career, and let’s talk about that. There may be some issues like that, but I don’t think that, like, a female McKinsey consultant would have a substantially different you know, if we’re doing a case on, say, Home Depot and what should Home Depot do as a corporation to deal with whatever, I don’t know that a female student would have a completely different outlook than a male. Obviously, we’re talking about, like, a case on a cosmetics company. There may be perhaps more gender comments may start to fall more among traditional stereotypical gender lines.

[00:16:24.110] – John

But I’m thinking about ten years ago at Harvard Business School, I believe the women’s group did a study, and they showed that a disproportionate share of men won top honors at the school foreign access of the percentage of men in the class, and that women tended not to win those awards. And it led to some thinking about why that was so when, after all, women went in, usually with much better grades and much better academic performance during their undergraduate years. And the conclusion was that, number one, professors were not calling upon women as often as they called on men because most of them were male. Secondly, they found out something that was really interesting, that women tended to want to give a fully formed, thoughtful answer, and men would just showed up their hands seeking air time and trying to score points no matter what kicked out of their mouth. Right?

[00:17:28.690] – Maria

Yeah, they would. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m glad that you brought this up, John, because I think because of the Harvard Business School grading system, because virtually most of your grade depends upon your contributions in the classroom, it’s a different academic experience, and it’s a different grading experience. We’re not talking about, like, okay, let’s give you a worksheet, and can you build a financial model and excel that does these five things? In that case, I do think there would be more gender parity ingredients but if it’s a matter of discussions, then yeah, I do think that women were more hesitant to raise their hands. I think professors were less just. It wasn’t on purpose. I just think it was simply a well intentioned yet unaware situation. But I think the benefits I think things have changed a lot because I think Harvard. As a result of that. In response to that. They did introduce this idea of many classes. If not all of them. Started having almost like a ta. Like a teacher’s assistant of a certain type that would actually take notes on not only who is saying what in class. But they would actually take notes on like.

[00:18:29.980] – Maria

Okay. How many women did the professor call on this time? And then afterwards, my understanding is that they would say, look man, there were five women who had their hands raised and you only called on one today, so you need to do better. So I do think that there were literally people holding the professors physically sitting in the classrooms, holding the professors accountable. And I would say one of the things that’s interesting is this idea of traditional follow traditional gender definitions or gender stereotypes. Yeah. Traditionally a woman might say like, wow, I’m not going to raise my hand until I know for a fact that what I have to say is good and smart. But one of the benefits of the Case Method. I think. And maybe I’m just rationalizing the school that I love is you see these boys raising their hands and saying complete garbage that they have not thought about and you see people reacting well to that and you see people falling for it and you start to realize. Wait a minute. If they can do it. Then I can do it too. And one of the reasons I think the Case Method is so effective, and this is just me speaking of myself as an individual, is that when you go out into corporate America, you start to realize, wait a minute, I don’t know exactly what my opinion is.

[00:19:37.720] – Maria

I don’t have a fully formed opinion, but I’m going to raise my hand in this meeting anyway. I’m going to give my opinion because I have seen, I spent two years watching guys do this and I know for a fact that they didn’t know what they were talking about. I know for a fact that the guy did not read the case last night. And so you start to realize the power of communicating with confidence. And I think that I would like to think that that helps women succeed a little bit more in what are traditionally maledominated fields.

[00:20:06.960] – John

Yeah. And I think just having more women in the classroom will give more women confidence to also fight for airtime and maybe get over the reservation that they always need to say something that’s really well thought out when there is an emphasis on very quick responses in a dynamic study discussion. And I think actually what Harvard did, among other things, was that during orientation it actually had sessions for women to tell them that, hey, put your hand up, participate. It’s important, don’t be counted by anyone in that classroom. You’re as good or better than they are, stand up and do your thing, which has been a really good message. I think the other thing that we’ve seen in the last ten years is the recruitment and the enrollment of more diverse classes. And I mean, even beyond underrepresented minorities, we’re seeing more applicants in the best schools from Africa in the Middle East. In terms of Africa, Oxford led the way, frankly, in creating an initiative to recruit more MBAs from Africa, which was a bet on that continent’s future and its importance in the overall economy and how it will develop over the next years.

[00:21:29.710] – John

And many schools have followed suit. And I think that’s a great development because Middle East and Africa are really super important regions of the world and they were vastly underrepresented in MBA programs. And if you think about the need for leadership and those economies in the future to progress and to get the kind of growth and development that would be well deserved in those parts of the world, an MBA education could be a good stepladder for that. And I’m thinking that because of all this. Caroline, I wonder in the beginning, ten years ago, where did you get most of your clients from and how has that changed over the past ten years? Are you seeing also a greater diversity of people who come to you for help and advice?

[00:22:16.110] – Caroline

Well, I think with Fortuna, about half of our clients are based in North America and then the rest all over the world. And I think that actually has been fairly consistent from the start. But that’s partly because we have a very strong representation of former admissions officers from in Seattle, London Business School on the team. So we’ve always naturally attracted a lot of international clients as well as candidates in the US were focused on the top US school. So we always had a very diverse mix. I love working, I find it fascinating working with people from all over the world who have such different backgrounds. It’s really enriching for me and I very much appreciate the opportunity that I have now to work with them over several months, whereas when I was at in Cedar, I might look at their file for ten minutes, right, and then on to the next one. So I really appreciate the opportunity to sort of build that relationship and get to know people in a much deeper way than I was able to before. And diversity of client base is wonderful. And I’m glad that the American schools are embracing this more now because that’s something that has been part of the DNA at Inchyad since the school was founded many, many years ago.

[00:23:42.970] – Caroline

And because the school recognized that bringing people together from different countries and cultures just adds so much to the learning experience for everybody. And that was part of the founding vision of the school. And it’s really not only stood the test of time, but other schools have sought to replicate it. So imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I guess. Yes, it is, definitely. I think it’s great that the schools are more open these days to international applicants. I would like to see that increase. I think talent is equally spread around the world, and we are not offering the same level of education necessarily to people from all parts of the global economy. And therefore, I think over time, business schools need to continue to look at expanding access to young professionals from around the world. As you say, it can have such a wonderful impact on developing their economies. And what is also wonderful, I think and I’ve seen this over the years working in business education, is that there are more and more candidates coming from emerging economies, are going back into those economies when they graduate. Whereas 20 years ago they might have come to study at Harvard or London Business School and then sought to stay in London or New York and might never have worked in their home countries again, whereas it’s much more common now for people to go back to their home countries.

[00:25:24.480] – Caroline

And so it’s wonderful that they are taking that world class education back home with them.

[00:25:29.970] – John

True. Maria, I wonder if you’ve noticed any changes in the selection process of business schools. Now, you mentioned the introduction, more video essays, but I wonder if you see schools looking more toward transcripts, work experience, undergraduate, college or employer. Is there anything you think is being emphasized more today than it was ten years ago?

[00:25:58.760] – Maria

I’m trying to think in terms of generalities. I’m not sure about the immediate thing that came to my mind upon hearing this question is there are a few schools that occur to me that I think have been aggressively trying to increase their standings in the rankings. And I think some schools have been there, for example, more aggressively courting high GMAT scores, or some schools have been more aggressively trying to court more and more and more applicants, because that way if they increase the denominator of the number of applicants and they accept the same number of people every year, their acceptance rate looks more elite by comparison. So I do think that some schools are this is a little bit cynical, but I do think that they are encouraging people to apply. You know, we talked a little bit earlier about how the application process in some ways is much easier. There’s a part of me that wonders. Part of that is like, yeah, sure, because we want to hear from more people, but also, hey, the more people apply, the better we look in terms of how elite we are.

[00:26:53.360] – John

True. Actually a good example of that, USC Marshall, they came out this week with their class profile, and they had a 16 point jump in their GMAT average. That’s amazing, right?

[00:27:11.010] – Maria

Well, because look at how easy it is, frankly, to apply to Marshall. You don’t need a single letter recommendation to apply to Marshall. So if I have a high GMAT, but the rest of my profile maybe isn’t that strong. Guess where I’m applying. I’m applying to Marshall. Right. Because I know that there’s not going to be no one’s going to call my boss and say, well, did Maria really do all talked about in her letter to us that the chances of that happening are not as high? And so I think that’s part of it. It’s actually funny. I was chatting with my husband the other night about these rankings, and I was like, yeah, USC is actually on par with are in fact even ahead of UCLA in some of these rankings. And we’ve been living in La now for 1520 years, and he’s like, how is that even possible? No sense to us. But how is it even UCLA? I think for people who live in Los Angeles, it is far and away the stronger school that attracts far and away stronger candidates. And it’s like, whoa, but good. I mean, look, it’s a game.

[00:28:07.840] – Maria

I’m sorry. USC is playing that game. Yeah.

[00:28:11.100] – John

And I should point out that that big increase has passed through isn’t the only one they’ve had. They’ve increased their average GMF by 25 points since the class of 2020. So that’s really remarkable.

[00:28:25.830] – Maria

They’re playing I mean, God bless them, there’s a game. And whether or not we definitely don’t agree with the game on this podcast, anyone who’s young, right? But the game is there, and some schools are playing that game. And whether they do it by maybe making the application process pretty easy, like literally the USC quote unquote essay, I think they call it a cover letter. Really? You could just recycle it’s essentially like a career vision. Why do you want to be a Trojan? Whatever. You could basically recycle any schools essay pretty easily for USC. You don’t have to do any extra work. Whatever. I’m being honest. You don’t have to do any extra work. You don’t even need a letter of recommendation. So if that’s the case, then, yeah, if I have a high GMAT, but maybe the rest of my profile isn’t, you know, I don’t get along with anyone I’ve ever worked with. Guess what? USC is a pay school for me to apply to. And I think they’re playing the game, and I think it’s interesting. Hopefully that will eventually the rising I love this I use this phrase too much. The rising tide will lift all boats, and hopefully eventually it will translate into a higher student quality.

[00:29:30.850] – Maria

I think Arizona has seen the fruits of that happen, right? Many years ago, I. Think Arizona made its program essentially free. And so guess what? Especially if I’m from a developing economy and I’m a genius and I’m super awesome, and I know that I can’t afford business school, guess where I’m going? And so then, as we become a positive cycle of more talented students, become more talented alumni, so hopefully this will pay off for USC in the long term. I just wish that I think there are people who could have gotten into USC five years ago with a lower GMAT score who might not get in now. And I think that’s a bit of a shame.

[00:30:06.870] – John

Yeah, that’s really true. Well, Caroline, congratulations on your ten year anniversary of Fortuna.

[00:30:13.440] – Maria

Thank you.

[00:30:14.100] – John

Maria has now had Applicant Lab for seven years, so your ten year anniversary is fast approaching, although Maria has been an MBA admissions consultant for much longer than that. So I want to thank both of you for all the service and to help you provide applicants over the years, I think has been really helpful to them. And I’m sure there are many out there who have graduated and gone on to other things, and I’m sure they think about you all the time. All right, this is John Byrne with Poets  and Quants you’ve been listening to Business Casual, our weekly podcast.

MBA Trends: A Look Back At The Past Ten Years
Maria |
October 12, 2022


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