It's an age-old concept. The economy goes sour, so thousands of professional go back to business school to "hide" and "ride it out" for two years. If this is what you are thinking of doing, you are in for a rude awakening. The idea that current b-school students had great timing and are unaffected by this downturn is false. Although we are obviously not fearing lay-offs for ourselves, everything that is happening right now in the economy does not paint a pretty picture for us.
Second years are interviewing right now for their full-time positions. As you can imagine, a lot of companies are canceling their recruiting or severely downsizing the number of positions they will offer (not to mention all the companies that suddenly don't exist anymore!). The fact that investment banking is typically a huge source of employment for Wharton grads is a serious concern for everyone. Even if you are not planning to go into banking, we all expect the competition for things like consulting and investment management to increase due to the migration of those folks to other opportunities. And when competition rises there, the trickle-down effect will almost definitely impact other career choices like marketing and general management. In other words, it's a total shake-up, and no one knows what to expect.
For first years, we start meeting recruiters this month. The typical schedule means that we'll be interviewing for summer internship positions in Jan/Feb. Does anyone actually think things will be better by then? Highly doubtful. What about by this time next year? Maybe (we can hope!) but it's looking less and less likely by the day. That makes the idea of getting an internship that will lead to a full-time offer more and more important. But when companies are reducing internship opportunities to try to cut costs, we're looking at a much harder job search that's going to require a lot more work.
Don't misunderstand - I am still optimistic. I'd rather be here at Wharton than many other schools. If companies reduce their number of offers, they will probably do so at other schools first. Many companies still see MBA recruiting as an investment, and therefore will make cuts elsewhere. Others may not have interviewed at Wharton before due to lack of interest by students, but they will come this year in anticipation of the shift I described above. Unless the bottom completely falls out of this economy, most of us still expect to have net gains from our time here.
So what am I saying? I guess the current situation just makes the whole ROI of the MBA that much more important. If you were unsure that you needed an MBA before this whole mess unfolded, you should be looking even more carefully at the decision. If you are convinced, as I am, that an MBA from a top school will help you achieve your goals, even if the job prospects are diminished from previous years, then you should continue with your applications. Just be careful not to view this as a 2 year vacation.