International AMBA & BGA Survey reveals what it was like to be an MBA student in 2020

The AMBA & BGA’s International MBA Survey sought to ascertain how students are managing to balance their studies and other commitments, in the face of an unprecedented pandemic. The study of 752 MBA students shows that the class of 2020 was riding the chaos of the current global uncertainty and making the most of their unique MBA experience. Overall, more than half (51%) said that the MBA experience was exceeding their expectations. In fact, a sizeable 84% said the MBA experience either met or exceeded their expectations so far.


Key findings 

  • 84% of MBA students said that, at the time of completing the survey, the MBA experience was exceeding or living up to their expectations, despite social distancing and lockdown policies.
  • A quarter of MBA students (25%) rated their teaching as excellent; 43% said it is very good and 24% said it is fairly good.
  • 80% of MBA students rated the services provided by their Business School’s careers team as excellent, very good, or fairly good.
  • 65% of MBA students rated their School’s networking with employers as excellent, very good, or fairly good.
  • 80% of MBA students said that the MBA had provided very good or fairly good value for money.
  • The most popular reason for choosing an MBA among current students is ‘to acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’ (cited by 70% of participants); this is followed closely by ‘to expand my area of expertise’ (cited by 69%).
  • 60% of current students applied for just one MBA programme; 18% applied for two and about 16% applied for three or more.
  • The number of offers received was largely in line with the number of applications made, with 60% receiving one offer; 21% receiving two; and 16% receiving three or more.


The decision making process 

MBA students were asked to share their main reasons for wishing to complete an MBA. The most popular reason (cited by 70% of the sample) is ‘to acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’; this is followed closely by ‘to expand my area of expertise’ (cited by 69%). The next most frequently-cited reasons for completing an MBA include ‘to get a broader understanding of how business should be managed’ (53%); ‘to change career’ (51%); and ‘to help differentiate myself in the job market’ (49%). Fewer participants cited reasons such as ‘to learn how to run an ethically sound business’ (20%); and ‘to earn more money in the short term’ (12%).


The participant pool is roughly evenly split in terms of whether they had chosen to study at home or abroad, with 43% saying the programme they had chosen was based outside of their country of origin; and 55% saying it was based in their own country. Just under a third (31%) travelled abroad to enrol onto their course; and 68% stayed in their native country. Students who had made the decision to study abroad, were asked for their reasons for choosing the countries in which they were studying at the time of completing the survey.


The reason cited by the largest proportion of students for choosing a country in which to study, is the academic reputation of the country (cited by 40% of students as the main reason they decided to study where they did). Just over a quarter (26%) of respondents chose the country they did, because the programme they wanted wasn’t available anywhere else, and 21% were attracted to the country they chose because of its culture. Just over one in five (21%) had other reasons for choosing the country they did, in which to study. Some of the most common answers in this pool included cost of the programme, work and career commitments, and personal and family constraints.


Students were asked how many MBA programmes they applied for and how many offers they received. About six out of 10 (60%) applied for just one programme; 18% applied for two and about 16% applied for three or more. Just under 5% were not required to apply for any programmes as they had already been offered a place at the Business School of their choice. The number of offers received was largely in line with the number of applications made, with 60% receiving one offer; 21% receiving two; and 16% receiving three or more.


The survey moved on to ask students to explain their reasons for choosing a particular programme. More than six out of 10 (61%) said it was the ranking of the MBA programme, that led to their decision. Other popular answers included the reputation of the programme among businesses (cited by 50% of students); the quality of teaching (38%); and the way the programme is delivered (38%).


Student experience 

The next section of the survey sought to ascertain students’ perspectives on various aspects of their Business School experience, including the application process, onboarding, careers support, course design and delivery, and accommodation.


The first question of this section polled participants on the application process. Encouragingly, current students are largely positive about their application experience. Almost three quarters (71%) said the open days were very good or excellent; 71% said information about the programme was very good or excellent; 75% said information about the country was very good or excellent; 70% said the entrance exam process was very good or excellent; 71% rated communications from the School as very good or excellent; and two thirds (66%) said communications with current students to candidates was very good or excellent.


In saying that, 43% believe that the application process could have been improved at their School, with 29% saying it couldn’t be improved and 28% not being sure if it could be improved or not.

In terms of onboarding, again students are positive about their experience, with 74% saying their onboarding experience had been very good or excellent. However, 53% said that their onboarding experience could have been improved.


Half (50%) of participants said the onboarding process at their Schools could have been improved with more information about how programmes work in practice. Other areas in the onboarding process participants think could be improved, include the direct interaction they had with Business School staff (cited by 34% of participants); functional information to enable them to start studying (e.g. passwords, provision of software, provision of learning materials) (30%); and information about how the Business School operates (29%).

When prompted to suggest other enhancements that could improve onboarding, participants’ ideas included a buddy programme; guest lectures from students / alumni during induction week; and more detailed information and about work/life balance while studying.


Work/life balance 

According to the results, 66% of students surveyed were working full time, 12% were working part time and 23% were not working while completing their MBA. Of those continuing to work, 72% are doing so because of a need to financially support the costs of taking the MBA; 50% need to financially support dependents; and 48% believed the work experience complements their MBA.


While a large proportion of participants had chosen to work and study simultaneously, a massive 91% admitted that this is very challenging or fairly challenging. Seven out of 10 (70%) student participants were living in their own homes, alone or with family while studying. Just under one in 10 (9%) of respondents were living in Business School accommodation; 8% were with living with siblings or parents; and 7% were sharing with other students.

Almost nine out of 10 (87%) of this group agree that their chosen type of accommodation suited their needs very well or fairly well.


Expectations versus reality 

The survey then moved to explore participants’ impressions of their course experience overall looking at various aspects from pedagogy and course design, to careers support. Overall, 51% of students that took part in the research said that, at the time of completing the survey, the MBA experience was exceeding their expectations; and a third (33%) said the experience met with their expectations.


Learning and development  

Given that popular decision factors for completing the MBA, among the sample, included the desire to change career, the survey moved on to ask participants if they were engaging with the careers support at their Business Schools in order to help them achieve their career goals, following the completion of their MBA. The results were mixed with 48% of respondents saying they were engaging with careers support at Business School and 49% saying they were not. Just over 3% of respondents were not sure whether or not they were engaging the services of their School’s careers department.


For the 322 participants that said they were using their Schools careers service, the survey moved to find out how effective this service was in supporting them to achieve their goals. Considering the advice they receive in terms of job applications, CVs and interview preparation, 80% rated the service either excellent, very good or fairly good. Just under two thirds of the participants (65%) rated their School’s networking with employers as excellent, very good or fairly good.


Job search facilities are also received positively by the sample with 65% rating them as excellent, very good or fairly good at their Business School. The study sought to ascertain the aspects and also course topics within the MBA programme that were of most interest to students. Developing business skills was the aspect of most interest to participants, with 81% of the sample citing this as such. This was followed by developing people management skills (cited by 68% of students as an aspect of interest in their MBA); learning from industry experts (62%); improving soft skills (61%); networking opportunities (59%); and learning from other students (59%).


Considering topics taught within MBA programmes, 57% of student participants said general management is of most interest to them. This was followed by global leadership (cited by 54%); strategic marketing (53%); finance (52%); strategy execution (52%); and global strategy (52%). Just 22% cited accounting as an area that interested them most and less than one in five (18%) were most interested in statistics.


Students were then asked to rate the quality of the teaching they had experienced so far in their course. A quarter (25%) rated their teaching as excellent; 43% said it is very good and 24% said it is fairly good. Just 2% said that the quality of teaching has been fairly poor, very poor or terrible in their experience.


Value for money 

The MBA represents a significant investment for students, but overall survey participants agreed their MBA was delivering good value for money. Just under a third (32%) said it had provided very good value for money; and 48% said it had provided fairly good value for money. At the other end of the scale, 7% believe that the value for money they had received from their MBA was fairly, or very, poor.

While students polled are positive about the MBA experience and the value for money, as outlined above, seven out of 10 survey participants (69%) believe that the delivery and/or content of their MBA programme could be improved.


Half of those who answered this question (50%) think there could be better opportunities to network (although the research was carried out at a period in time when most countries in the world were experiencing enforced lockdowns or travel quarantines due to Covid-19); 43% think partnerships with their Business Schools and corporates could be improved; and 43% suggested improvements around teaching modern business trends (such as AI and data).


Post-MBA planning 

The final section of the questionnaire sought to investigate how MBA students were considering their future and their plans for post-study.

More than half of those surveyed (54%) do not intend to return to the same job they held prior to undertaking their studies and 17% are not sure. Those who were not returning to the same job that they held before completing their MBA were asked what their post-MBA plans were.


Three quarters (33%) of student survey participants are planning to move to a new company in the same sector in which they currently operate – but with a different job function – following the completion of their qualification; and conversely, a similar proportion (29%) are planning to move to a new company in a different sector with a similar job function. Just under one in 10 (9%) want to return to the same company, and the same job role but at a more senior level, when they complete their MBA; and 7% hope to have a different role in the same company. An ambitious 16% have plans to launch their own business.


Notably, 6% of participants still did not know what their post-MBA plans would be, at the time of completing the questionnaire. More than half (55%) are making plans to stay in the country in which they are completing their MBA; and, while 24% are planning to move elsewhere, 21% still are not sure where the future will take them. Of those that are choosing to stay in the country in which they completed their MBA, the largest proportion (39%) are doing so because it is their home country. A third (33%) rated the career opportunities in the country where they studied; 29% like the social life in their country of study; 20% consider it ‘home’; and 12% had met their partner in their country of study.


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