As dot-coms collapse, Sloan applicants speed up study plans

Cambridge, Mass., August 10, 2001--They cite the usual reasons for attending management school, but incoming members of the MIT Sloan School of Management Class of 2003 say current economic conditions make them particularly glad they are going now.

“Aside from the pure educational value, I wanted an MBA in order to have more and better career opportunities, a great business network, and the clout that comes with an MBA from Sloan,” said Joy Masterson-Weir, 31. “In a bad market where jobs are harder to come by, those things are even more important.”

A consultant with a small Boston-based firm, Masterson-Weir initially pursued an MBA part time at the University of Chicago. “During the dot-com craze I wanted to get my MBA, but I wanted to do it part-time,” she said. “Now I am especially glad to be going to school full-time.”

Or, as Hakan Adolfsson, 29, a Caracas-born Swedish citizen who has worked as an investment banker for six years in New York, put it: “Everyone says the timing couldn't be better” to go to management school now, he said.

Economic conditions may also explain a surge in relatively last-minute applications, according to Margaret Andrews, executive director of the MBA program at Sloan.

“Typically, more than half of all applications come during our first round of applications in December,” she said. “But this year, we had the reverse, with roughly 60 percent coming in during the second round (in early February). That's unusually high. I have the feeling that people who were deciding between applying this yeas and next year opted for this year.”

The sudden reversal in dot-com instant millionaireism also may have helped prompt the decision to apply, said Mannig Simidian. “The foregone income cost is probably lower,” he said. “It hurts a lot less to be in school right now as opposed to a few years ago.”

Sloan Dean Richard Schmalensee said responding to such changing economic conditions fits right into Sloan's educational mission.

“Throughout its 50 year history and through many business cycles, Sloan has provided students with a solid grounding in critical management theories and principles,” he said. “But we also want our students to be able to analyze and respond to unexpected developments. Before coming to Sloan, many of them had to deal with day-to-day crises caused by the downturn in technology and other sectors. Now these students can step back, do some analyzing and develop solid skills that will benefit both them as individuals and the industries to which they go next.”

As the Internet bubble fades and business fundamentals regain favor, these students may also see more direct payoffs as well.

Adrian Van Meerbeeck, 36, who was born in Albania and studied and worked in Japan and Belgium, decided to attend business school at a time when the technology sector was still strong. “At that time, some of my friends and coworkers thought I was crazy to invest all this time and money into an MBA (since) there was so much 'easy' money around,” Van Meerbeeck said. “The general demise of the tech sector only confirms my belief in (the need for) a more traditional business training.”

Masterson-Weir said the technology sector slump has also affected her plans for study while at Sloan.

“I always felt that the e-commerce track seemed a little too trendy for a concentration, although I believe ... there is still a tremendous amount of future Internet-related opportunity to come,” she said. “Recent conditions may cause me to think more about whether to enter the entrepreneurship track, although I think the most important thing is to choose something that truly interests me. Market conditions are always going to be changing, so you need to develop skills that transcend immediate concerns.”

Current market conditions have caused some incoming students to rethink even such recently hot concentration areas as e-commerce.

“Two years ago, I might have chosen to concentrate on e-business,” said Lilac Berniker, who has an advanced degree in science and has worked as a web applications designer for four years. “Now, I am planning to concentrate more heavily on finance to complement my technology background. While I am still interested in e-business, I believe that an understanding of the business, as well as the technology, will be valuable.”

With the economic and business worlds continuing to turn and churn, students are looking forward to the chance to gain such understanding.

“This dot-com fiasco is a perfect background for a business education, as scholars, pundits and practitioners are eager to turn the economy around,” said Simidian. “The recent economic decline has given us all a jolt, but as future managers, we need to wake up to reality, go back to the fundamentals, and oh yes, get that MBA.”

Mike Kim, 28, who worked as a quantitative analyst for Pioneer Investments before coming to Sloan, is also anxious to learn business fundamentals - but he is just as intrigued by the bigger economic picture.

“I believe we are still in the process of dissecting and analyzing what has happened in the past few years,” Kim said. “So now is a great time to be in the classroom with a bunch of smart people trying to figure out what we can learn from the popping of the Internet bubble and the slowdown in the technology sector.”

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At MIT Sloan, companies are launched in courtyards and corridors. Research shows that start-ups conceived in a technology environment are the most successful.

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