Is there any point in studying an MBA in this market?

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MBA applications are probably about to go through the roof, but is there really any point in lumbering yourself with another 40k+ of debt right now?

Students who have already embarked upon this course of action seem to think there is. Current students point out that anyone starting an MBA in 2009 with a view to getting into (or getting back into) banking will be a lot better placed than they themselves are.

"By the time anyone applying next year leaves, the industry will have reshaped itself to take account of new regulations, and there will probably be a hiring boom again," says a member of the class of 2009 at one of Europe's top schools.

This may be slightly optimistic, but a few things suggest banks will still need MBAs in 2011.

One is the MBA's "well-rounded profile". Bank recruiters say the MBA profile is likely to be more popular in future than, say, the profile of a quant-focused PhD, whose currency has waned with the demise of structured products.

Another is the internationalism of MBAs, and their exposure to emerging markets. At top European schools, a high proportion of students are Indian and Chinese, meaning many of their graduates come with the international credentials required by banks looking to build in what are still likely to be the markets of the future.

However, the way banks hire MBAs is likely to change. Unless a dramatic recovery does indeed trigger a hiring boom, students embarking on an MBA next year are likely to find banks a lot more choosy about who they take on.

"Triple jumpers - people who are changing role, function and location - will find it a lot harder to get into banking," predicts Derek Walker, head of careers at Oxford's Said Business School, and a former head of recruitment at Barclays Capital. "The emphasis is likely to be on hiring people with specific skill sets that are easily transferable across to a particular business area."

In future, more banks may take the Citigroup approach to MBA hiring - recruiting strategically in small numbers, rather than across the board. "We use MBAs to selectively inject high-calibre candidates with a particular profile into the business," says Citi head of graduate recruitment Brian Hood.

What of the remainder of the would-be bankers in the MBA class of 2011? A few may find joy with boutiques, asset managers and private equity funds. The rest could always work on restructuring their own debt.

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