Will Gen Z Kill the MBA?

You may have seen headlines in the past few weeks with outtakes from GMAC’s latest survey of prospective graduate business students (i.e., people who have registered for the GMAT and submitted a survey response). GMAC asked important questions around the types of graduate business education today’s students (Gen Z, that’s you!) are seeking and why they are motivated to pursue an MBA or related degree. You may have also read in recent years about measurable declines in MBA applications or even opinions from people like Elon Musk who seem to think MBAs are ruining corporate innovation.

So, what do these pieces of information tell us about the future of the MBA? Is it a legacy degree that is not of value to tomorrow’s business leaders? How should educational institutions evolve to meet the needs of their students for years to come?

Who Is Gen Z?

To answer these questions, and as [ahem, older] Millennials, we first sought to ground ourselves in exactly what characteristics define Gen Z, as much as any generation can truly be ‘defined’.

According to Stanford scholar, Roberta Katz, the typical Gen Zer ‘is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity and non-hierarchical leadership, and, while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues.’

Beyond these characteristics are the circumstances that have defined Gen Z’s experience in the world. They are the first generation of true digital natives and many of them spent their early careers living through a global pandemic.   

And the Survey Says…

With that context in mind, what are these young people telling us they want out of graduate business degrees, specifically MBAs for the purposes of this article? A few key takeaways that stuck us were:

  • More respondents are motivated to go to business school to enrich their lives and develop potential (79%) than those who want to build wealth (58%) or increase their income (64%).
  • Roughly the same proportion of respondents prefer a one-year program (22%) as those who prefer the traditional two-year program (20%), but the full time MBA experience is still far and away the most sought-after graduate business degree and in-person learning is the format of choice.
  • Tomorrow’s MBAs value the strength of a program’s social impact and CSR offerings; they are less inclined to target a career in tech than their Millennial counterparts.

What This All Means

In our opinions, the biggest ‘aha’ from the above is the high level of intersection there is between the experience full time MBA programs offer and the values Gen Zers hold most dear.

For instance, Gen Zers value a collaborative and social environment. As virtually any alum of a full time MBA program (like both of us) can attest, nearly every class involves heavy teamwork, and the social scene is vibrant pretty much any night you’d like to venture out of your apartment.

They also value a diverse community. While there is always room for improvement, it’s clear that MBA admissions officers are intentional about comprising classes from different corners of the globe, varying pre-MBA careers, and more. Without fail, when alums reflect on their time in business school, they mention interacting with a highly diverse set of peers as one of the greatest benefits of the experience.

Not only does the MBA experience align with Gen Zers’ values, it also prepares these future leaders to enact the change they see as necessary in the world – or at least business schools are evolving their programs in this direction.

As Roberta Katz’ work shows, the next generation knows there are problems to solve and that doing so will require hard work, not just hopes and dreams. Along those lines, the GMAC survey indicates that respondents want to be educated in how to leverage their career to drive change.  With nearly every top MBA program offering social impact curriculum and numerous launching DEI concentrations, it seems administrators are working to address the needs of tomorrow’s students.

So, at the end of the day, it appears the needs and wants of the next generation are actually converging with what the MBA offers, not the opposite. We’re happy to be in a position to help guide our talented, ambitious (but not in a Wolf of Wall Street way) clients towards the educational opportunities that will help them influence the change they want to see in the world.    

After all, that’s exactly why our Co-Founder, Melody, got into this business in the first place. We both believe that an MBA is far more than a degree – it transforms lives and careers for the better. And so we’re on a mission to enable those dreams of a top MBA for anyone who’s ready to do the work.  

So yes, the MBA is alive and well. And we’re here for it.

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