Due to coronavirus / covid-19, many MBA admits (who are applying in R3) are now looking at the different scenarios and outcomes and wondering if they should ask the MBA program that they have been accepted to if they can defer (that is, delay) enrolling in the MBA program by one year. In other words, instead of enrolling in August or September of 2020, instead asking the school if they can enroll the following academic year instead.

This is for 2 key reasons:

  1. Many students are understandably nervous that virtual classes will NOT allow for some of the intense bonding and friendships that MBA programs are famous for (though personally I think this concern is overblown)
  2. On a darker note, lay-offs and restructurings at many companies may give early-career candidates a chance to take charge of some more advanced opportunities (think: taking over an important client relationship if a boss has been laid off), and so there might be some exciting opportunities for professional growth (personally, I think this is a bit risky — after all, if your boss is let go due to the economy… sure you might get some plum projects…or you could be next!)

Anyway, because of this, I’ve been getting lots of emails from my clients who have been accepted to MBA programs asking me:

“Is it OK if I ask the MBA program for a deferral, so that I can start classes next year, instead of this year?”

Well, the SIMPLE answer to this is: “Sure, you ‘can’ ask for a deferral.”  But ASKING and RECEIVING are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.

No, I do NOT think that business schools will grant covid-19 related deferrals.

Reasons:

  1. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting essentially 100% of the world right now. The fact that you are stressed out, or bummed out, about the fact that classes might be online or your internship might not materialize, etc.?  Well guess what. I’d estimate that 85% of other MBA students are stressed about this as well (the onlhy reason I don’t say 100% is that I’m allowing for roughly 15% of the class to be either employer-sponsored or going back to a family or self-owned business, so recruiting is not a big worry to them)

2. Can you imagine what would happen if 100%, 85% or even 30% of the incoming MBA class asked for a deferral until the following year?

      • It will rob the school of one year’s worth of MBA revenue for those students: the school will still have many “fixed costs” that it needs revenue to keep running (professor salaries; facilities; administration; etc.)
      • This will rob next year’s applicants of spots: now, instead of, say, 500 spots available in a hypothetical program, now they would only be 50 or 100 spots, since most of the spots would be taken up by the previous year’s admits.

Well then, so when do schools grant deferrals?”

They are NEVER granted because “Some cool new opportunity at work just came up!” After all, if you felt you had more to learn / more room to grow in your current job, then why would have applied to b-school now? (This is precisely why many schools often have a “Why now?” component to their “Why MBA?” question).

Usually, the reasons for deferrals are when something outside of the candidate’s control occurs that will make them physically unable to attend school in the fall.

Examples:

  • An illness that requires intense care, such as undergoing chemotherapy
  • Discovering that one is pregnant and due to give birth near the beginning of the school year; thus, “maternity leave” would occur when classes are starting and the student would not be able to attend class / catch up
  • Needing to care for a relative, in case of unexpected illness or a financially-devastating tragedy
  • Being called for mandatory military deployment

Note that one reason that someone may be unable to attend an MBA program is that they are unable to get either:

  • A student visa
  • A student loan

The visa in particular is almost never grounds for being successfully granted a deferral, since the school views that as being the candidate’s responsibility to have their acts together. While sometimes there are things such as a random, unexpected travel ban that pop up, usually the candidate is expected to have researched what it takes to get a visa and to take steps as soon as possible to get one (side note: this is why many U.S. MBA programs distinctly discourage or even forbid international students from applying late in the cycle, such as in Round 3).