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'The decision was taken for me': How the coronavirus convinced people to go back to college to do an MBA

Maxime Arnulf is due to start the MBA program at HEC Paris in August.

In the wake of the pandemic, an uncertain jobs market and cheap loans are among the reasons why some young professionals have been convinced to do a masters of business administration (MBA). 

After working in Dubai for multinational technology and engineering firm Bosch for four years, Maxime Arnulf, 29, wanted to take the next step in his career and relocate in the process, so applied to do an MBA at HEC Paris, France. 

However, he was still in two minds as to whether to commit to doing the course given the cost involved — the total tuition fee is 72,500 euros ($83,999) for the HEC MBA — or to look for another job in Europe.  

But when he received the offer during lockdown, Arnulf felt like the "decision was more or less taken for me." 

Instability in the jobs market and the chances for promotion "drastically reduced," as well as it being a more "stressful" time in the workplace, factored into his decision to accept a place on the course. 

Nunzio Quacquarelli, CEO and founder of global business education analysts and consultants Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), recently told CNBC that in the 30 years of monitoring the supply and demand of MBA education, his firm had typically seen an uplift in demand for these programs during a recession. 

Arnulf is funding the MBA by taking out a bank loan, which he only has to start repaying in three years' time. 

He pointed out that low interest rates also made it cheaper to borrow this money. The European Central Bank's base interest rate is currently 0%. 

"So it's quite a good deal that I got from the bank and many banks with the coronavirus, they're being more lenient," Arnulf said. 

Paul Kilroy Glynn

'Top priority' 

Similarly, after working for consultancy network GLG for several years, Paul Kilroy Glynn, 32, wanted to do a slightly different role and decided an MBA would allow him to make this transition. 

He hopes to work in a strategy role for a pharmaceuticals or medical technology company, having studied genetics and cell biology as an undergraduate, and consulted in the health care space for GLG. 

The pandemic hit just after Kilroy Glynn had handed in his application to the course at UCD Smurfit School in Dublin, where he lives. So while he'd also considered schools in wider Europe and the U.S., the program in Ireland became his "top priority." 

The focus on the development of coronavirus vaccines or treatments this year, he argued, would also likely reduce hiring in the strategy space he wants to work in. 

"Let's say anyone who makes remdesivir right now, you're probably going to be hiring a lot of people on your production side but you're not going to be hiring many on your strategy side or operations or specialties because you already have what you need," he explained. 

This year therefore seemed like the best time to do an MBA given the likely lack of job opportunities in that area, Kilroy Glynn said. Although he has been talking to his employer about continuing to work part-time in the evenings while studying. 

"I won't make anywhere near as much as I am now but I'll be making enough to kind of cover the grocery bill and a few other things every week so I (don't) dip into the savings quite as much," Kilroy Glynn said. 

He'd originally considered doing a part-time executive MBA program last year but got promoted at the same time he was offered a place on the course and also realized the full-time program would be better suited to his long-term career goals. So he has been setting aside 500 euros a month for the past couple of years, as well as his end of year bonus, to help fund the course. 

Sydney Nolan

'A safer move' 

Sydney Nolan, 27, is also doing her MBA in Dublin, at Trinity Business School and is moving over from the U.S. 

Part of her motivation for choosing to do the MBA in Ireland is that it offers the "third level graduate programme," a kind of visa that allows non-European international students to work in the country for up to two years after graduating. 

Initially, when the pandemic emerged, she wavered between doing the course and deferring her place. But she said that seeing how the U.S. has dealt with the virus helped persuade her to make the move. 

The U.S has seen the highest number of reported cases of the coronavirus in world so far, with over 3.9 million infections and over 142,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

For Nolan, going to Ireland to study therefore "feels like almost a safer move in some ways." 

"I think again the pandemic has really magnified (that) some things are really broken and have been really broken for a long time, about how we live or how we do business or how we work," said Nolan, adding that she felt it would take changes to big companies and systems to address these issues, which is what she wants to work on post-MBA. She currently works for a nonprofit mental health center. 

She is funding the course with a combination of savings, borrowing through the U.S. federal government's student loan program, as well as a scholarship from Trinity. 

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These college seniors had job offers lined up–then the pandemic hit
These college seniors had job offers lined up–then the pandemic hit