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Business students prepare to tackle the 'new normal'

By Eliza Ridgeway, for CNN
Columbia Business School student Prasanth Ramanand sees opportunities in the financial services industry.
Columbia Business School student Prasanth Ramanand sees opportunities in the financial services industry.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New MBA students face an uphill battle in traditionally popular sectors like finance
  • By taking two years out of work, students gamble on connecting to new sectors or parts of the world
  • Networking and projects outside the classroom have become integral to MBA programming

London, England (CNN) -- The new generation of business students settling in at graduate programs around the world give a snapshot of larger trends in the world of aspiring executives.

A few years into the financial crash, MBAs know they have to find new formulas for success as old certainties fall apart. Students still come looking to elevate their pay grade back in the working world. But many also plan to change careers, either by moving country or entering a new sector completely.

The financial services industry remains a target for a tremendous number of MBA candidates. But energy, pharmaceutical/healthcare and emerging markets are sectors seeing a spike of interest, as is the social sector.

CNN spoke with first-year students at schools around the world to learn about the risks, expectations and rewards of leaving the workforce for another degree.

CNN: Why start the MBA now?

"Ideally, I would have liked to do an MBA earlier, but applying in previous years would have meant applying in a particularly precarious and uncertain economic environment."
-- Jen Holt, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School, age 29

"I reached a point in my career where depth of knowledge in my (technical) field was achieved and I wanted to broaden my knowledge base to move up the ladder. Also, I just got married and I don't think my wife would've allowed me to get an MBA later!"
-- Hari Krishnan, IESE Business School, University of Navarra, age 27

CNN: How has the financial climate affected new MBA students?

"I think that the class of 2012 enters business school this fall with a meaningful sense of responsibility to the world outside. Although some industries popular with MBAs are reportedly increasing hiring this year, students remain conscious of economic conditions and have maintained a sense of realism about opportunities for outlandish compensation upon graduation."
-- Sara Luchian, Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, age 27

"Many students who graduated in the wake of the financial crisis and the recession that followed had to adjust to the harsh reality very quickly. It's unfortunate that some spent the entire two years preparing themselves to pursue a particular type of career and one fine day when they are about to get started, the industry itself got torn apart ... As far as the class of 2012 goes, we understand what's happening and how there is a new normal."
-- Prasanth Ramanand, Columbia Business School, age 27

CNN: What's new and different for the class of 2012?

It is no longer enough for the up and coming workforce to have exposure to the world, they want first hand experience.
--Mita Sen
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"There has been a recent surge of student interest and administrative support in energy technology ... These organizations have profoundly changed the discourse on campus and the opportunities available for students."
-- Edward Alfano, Sloan School of Management, MIT, age 27

"Globalization and the desire of the workforce to experience this globalization first-hand has increased significantly. It is no longer enough for the up-and-coming workforce to have exposure to the world, they want first hand experience."
-- Mita Sen, INSEAD Business School Singapore, age 26

CNN: Where are you hoping an MBA might take you?

"I don't actually want to stay in financial services but want to move more into a consulting role ... I don't think any of us who want to switch careers view (grad school) as a magic formula to make it happen. You also get to meet a fantastic range of people and really broaden your horizons, build a great network for the future."
-- Jen Holt, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School, age 29

"Before school, I was working as a consultant for capital markets industry and I came to Columbia to transition into a career in investment banking. These are uncertain times, given the nature of the revolutionary changes that are happening in the financial services industry. But in my view-point, if you have passion for a career and are ready to work hard and learn the ropes, then you will find success, whether in a recession or in a boom."
-- Prasanth Ramanand, Columbia Business School, age 27

CNN: So, what's business school really like?

"I was told time and again how over-scheduled I would be, but it's more overwhelming than I imagined. The core curriculum is challenging and time-intensive; there are too many clubs to keep track of; my phone won't stop buzzing. Should I go to the 80's party or run the 5K or study my marketing case?"
-- Sara Luchian, Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, age 27

"One of my classmates worded it well when they said, 'INSEAD is like drinking out of a fire hydrant, you just open your mouth and try to drink as much as you can.'"
-- Mita Sen, INSEAD Business School Singapore, age 26