Look, I get it! You applied to an MBA program for many reasons, but at the end of the day, the main one is to enhance your career. And one of the most famous ways that going to business school does that is through “networking”… in other words, the friendships you make!

To borrow the format of an old credit card commercial, you might have been thinking about the investment in the MBA like:

  • Tuition and fees: $170k
  • Foregone salary: $200k+
  • Being a lifelong member of YourSchool’s alumni network: Priceless

But wait! Now, due to coronavirus / COVID-19, many (most? all?) business schools may be “virtual” only… maybe for a month, a semester, or even a year! (and, I suspect that very few of them will offer easy deferrals — see my post on that here)

(Want to see my outline on how things might play out? See my infographic where I tried to boil it down to the key drivers!)

“If my MBA program is entirely online, doesn’t that mean that I’m missing out on the famous networking experience, and so business school isn’t going to be worth it?”

My answer to this is a definite “Sort of.” BUT, I do NOT think things are as TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO-GOOD and VERY BAD as many people are saying.

Before I leap into the rest of this post, two things:

First, people who are considering enrolling in a one year program this fall MAY want to re-consider, since chances are that a much higher percentage (if not 100%) of their experience may now be online.

Second, OF COURSE, I am NOT saying that online / virtual coursework and socialization will be 100% as good as in-person would be… what I *AM* saying though, is that I do not think it will be such a disaster that the MBA ceases to have value.

Therefore, if you were PLANNING to enroll in an MBA program this fall, and if the prospect of virtual / online classes is the ONLY reason you are considering dropping out and re-applying in the next cycle, my advice is:

CONSIDER GOING ANYWAY!

Why you ask? Here are my thoughts:

1. Getting to know people is NOT a binary event — that is, you will still be able to make good friends, even via virtual means.

In other words, it’s not like: “Hey, we meet in person, and I am now friends with 100% of the people!” vs. “Well, we only know each other online, so we are ZERO PERCENT FRIENDS.”

People who get IN to business schools to BEGIN with are usually:

  • Friendly
  • Resourceful
  • The kinds of people who make things happen and don’t just sit back, helplessly

Think about it! You got *IN* to business school IN THE FIRST PLACE because you are these things!!! Given that, I have faith that incoming MBA students will find ways to get to know one another (via Virtual happy hours; Zoom Board Game Nights; small group discussions; virtual club meetings etc…) and will be committed to making it work. After all, there is mutual benefit for all of you to make a big effort to get to know each other!

The fact that you are all overcoming this challenge together; that you all refused to turn your back on the school and support them and each other, even in dire circumstances, might make you bond EVEN MORE, if you have a shared challenge to overcome!

Also: if virtual platforms were complete rubbish at allowing people to get to know each other, then…

  • No virtual work meeting, virtual client pitch, etc. would work, ever.
    • But, in real life, people still are able to close deals, build partnerships, find funding, win over clients…without ever meeting them in-person! It happens all the time!
  • No one who started out by talking on a dating website would EVER get married. 
    • But, a recent estimate is that almost 40% of heterosexual couples in America MET ONLINE. If “meeting online” meant “I will never get to know what someone is like”, then that number would be ZERO percent.

2. Coronavirus will not be forever

As of right now, some estimates are that we could get treatment (even if somewhat effective) by the winter of 2020, and vaccines by summer of 2021.

This means, if you are entering a two year program, you WILL be in person that second year!

And I have a feeling that y’all will FIND CREATIVE WAYS to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME… And I almost wonder IF, instead of giving tuition refunds, the schools will provide you guys with, say, AMAZING “orientation” experiences…again, to help make up for lost time.

Ie, “Now that travel restrictions are lifted, let’s start out your second year with…a big trip to a beach in Mexico!”

(irrelevant side note: the fact that my own much-longed-for vacation to a beach in Mexico was recently cancelled may or may not have affected my creation of this example!)

3. Could there be…a bright side to some of this “virtual” stuff?

It’s easy to get hung up on all of the potential downsides of your program being online. But there could be a number of positives to it as well! Some that I can think of:

Harvard Business School (HBS)

 

Academics

One of my friends is a professor at HBS. They told me that yes, obviously some of that “human spark” can’t be replicated online… but that there have been some benefits:

  • Shyer / less aggressive students are feeling less intimidated and are participating more
  • Along the same lines, it’s easier to keep track of who is participating and to call on students who might normally shrink into the wallpaper in the back
  • When breaking out into small group discussions, a lot of time is saved since Zoom can do that in seconds, instead of taking 5 minutes for people to get up, leave the room, go down the hall, walk back, etc. — those minutes usually spent “herding cats”  are now saved
  • Now that there are literally no space / occupancy limits to a classroom, could some of the MOST popular courses — the ones that are chronically over-subscribed — now accept anyone who wants to take it (even if via auditing / not for a letter grade?). Could the most popular lectures, etc. perhaps be recorded and uploaded so that only current students can access them for a limited time (regardless of their schedules perhaps being crazy these days?) After all, providing this benefit would come at little — if not zero! — incremental cost to the school!

Extra-curriculars

  • People can “try out” various clubs by dropping in virtually on club meetings to listen in, without having to physically be there. This might encourage people to try something new, or to join a club where they don’t currently know anybody, etc.
  • Conferences will probably be able to get even better speakers! Back when I was in school, booking conference speakers was quite the task — not only finding a day / time that worked for them, but convincing them to come visit campus for just a day was not always an easy sell. Now, if the conferences themselves are all “virtual”, it will be far less hassle for a VIP to come speak!

On the social side (this is just my speculation)

A lot (most) of the “networking” in b-school is at parties / bars, which, “hey, FUN” but also, “ugh, LOUD!” You have to scream over people (and if you’re short like me, get on your tip-toes sometimes) to have a conversation. Meeting others in smaller groups for “virtual happy hours” or “online pub night” means you can actually have conversations with people!

There’s also less chance for the cliques to be so “cliquey” – a bunch of people go into each top business school’s class already knowing each other from work (especially from the “feeder firms”), college, prep school, their daddy’s house in the Hamptons is next to the other student’s daddy’s house in the Hamptons 🙂  (This is an exaggeration, of course. Sort of.)

Once they get to school, many of them, UNDERSTANDABLY, want to hang out with each other. This isn’t much of a “problem” per se, but it is harder to get to know people who arrive to campus with their social set already formed. If all social activities are online, sure those folks can still hang out with their existing friends, but it also makes it less likely that they’ll just disappear with them and not attend broader events.

Will any of this actually happen? 

Who knows!

Heck, twleve weeks ago I was planning my awesome upcoming Mexico Beach Vacation, four weeks ago I cancelled my plans for a summer trip to Taiwan that I had been planning for over a year,  and now I’m contemplating bartering my son in exchange for a roll of paper towels… “Life moves pretty fast!”  WE ARE ALL SPECULATING AT THIS POINT.

My main point here is that freaking out and thinking that an online MBA has zero value and so you should just give up on it may be an over-reaction. It will not be 100% “as good” as the in-person experience, but that doesn’t mean that it will be SO devalued that you shouldn’t enroll, on account of only this.

And hey, maybe we can even dare to brainstorm ways that “starting out as virtual only” might even be…better, in some ways?

What do you think? Am I on the right track, or am I just so desperate to find any sort of happy thoughts in today’s “UGH” world that I am deluding myself? I suspect it’s probably a little of both, ha ha.

Either way: Stay safe! Social distance! Wash your hands!!!