MBA - Application Process

Scholarships and the MBA

Congratulations, you have been admitted to your dream business school. But before you get excited about enrolling, did you know that you’ll have to spend between $100,000 and $200,000 to finish your two-year MBA degree? Disheartening? Not really.

Despite the recent increase in applicants and scores, deans of business schools still complain about the lack of quality students. Competition for the best and brightest is tough. So once the admissions officers decide to accept you, they want you to come. School awarded scholarships and fellowships are one way to entice a highly regarded applicant to accept an offer of admission.

MBA Scholarships at Top Business Schools

While the cost of attending business school has increased by more than 30% over the last five years, the average student indebtedness, by some reports, has gone down. This is possible because over the same period the average amount of scholarship awards has increased dramatically. Institutions are competing for students with offers of significant merit-based scholarships.

While most applicants do not discuss financial need in their applications, in 2014, the top ranked schools offered more than $220 million in student scholarships. As a recent report indicated, Harvard spent almost 30% of its gross revenues on scholarship awards and Rice University provided scholarships to 94% of their students amounting to 58% of gross tuition charged. So don’t let high tuition costs deter you from attending your dream school.

Most business schools utilize a merit-based approach to awarding scholarship. Harvard and Stanford are the only schools that state their scholarships are strictly needs based. However, what “worthy Harvard MBA wannabe” couldn’t develop a case for need?

The table below shows the average grant amount of each school and the percent it represents of the total cost of tuition.

Schools % of Gross Tuition Average Grant % of MBAs on Scholarship
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 21.50% $21,853 57%
Chicago (Booth)* 22.60% $30,000 60%
Columbia Business School* 12.50% $20,500 46%
Cornell (Johnson) 17.50% $12,000 33%
Dartmouth (Tuck)* 15.60% $27,550 35%
Duke (Fuqua) 14.20% $20,950 33%
Emory (Goizueta) 29.60% $24,905 57%
Georgetown (McDonough) 11.60% $30,000 27%
Harvard Business School 28.60% $32,000 50%
Indiana (Kelley) 34.00% $25,757 70%
Michigan (Ross)* 27.50% $22,360 48%
MIT (Sloan)* 15.60% $28,220 35%
New York (Stern) 26.80% $26,400 62%
North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) 22.20% $35,370 35%
Northwestern (Kellogg) 27.90% $22,800 35%
Notre Dame (Mendoza) 36.90% $29,283 60%
Penn (Wharton)* 14.80% $30,500 33%
Rice (Jones) 59.00% $33,320 94%
Stanford GSB 31.00% $35,830 52%
Texas-Austin (McCombs) 13.80% $13,494 44%
UC-Berkeley (Haas) 23.00% $29,060 50%
UCLA (Anderson) 22.40% $25,860 65%
Univ. of Washington (Foster) 13.80% $17,700 47%
Vanderbilt (Owen) 36.60% $25,797 65%
Virginia (Darden)* 23.40% $30,800 43%
Washington Univ. (Olin) 39.00% $30,990 64%
Yale School of Management 13.00% $23,028 31%

* denotes estimates

Source:  Table from Poets & Quants shows top business schools in the US and their corresponding MBA scholarship info.

How Scholarships are Awarded

So who is awarded scholarships? Schools are looking to attract those students who will enrich their programs – now and in the future.

While Scholarship Committees maintain they base their awards using established criteria, such as academic achievement, leadership potential, professional development and uniqueness or distinctive backgrounds, in the end, awards they will admit intuition plays a large role in the decision.   The “uniqueness or distinctive background” criteria enables the committee to round out their student body and add valued perspectives to the cohort. Here diversity counts.

Consultants and financial analysts, you may be at a disadvantage. Women, who represent only about 36% of business school applicants, are eagerly sought and so a female applicant with solid academic achievement, good GMAT scores, and strong professional development may be offered a very attractive scholarship over say a male applicant with similar credentials.

Programs are also looking to attract students with liberal arts and technology backgrounds who can bring a different perspective to the class discussions. The point, when writing your personal statement for the application, be sure to identify those unique attributes that would be attractive to a school. It may not only gain you an offer of “accepted,” but also provide for some much needed financial assistance.

Negotiating Your MBA Scholarship

Most students hear about their awards when they receive their acceptances. Too often, we accept what is first offered. What many don’t know is that when it comes to MBA scholarships, while “negotiation” is not a term schools like to use, there are ways in which you can counter the school’s initial offering.

However, it is also important that you remain modest and polite. Do not be too aggressive and demanding when inquiring.

Here are some more tips on how you can use to negotiate your MBA scholarship.

  1. Establish your case. When asking for more money, discuss why you need it and clearly state your points. Keep in mind that many of the applicants are in the same financial situation as you, so you have to be clear and precise about your concerns. Personal problems, international travel, and your dreams of attending a particular school can be insignificant, so better stick to financial facts and reasonable cause.
  2. Be honest. If you are not satisfied with the offer, tell the admissions committee. Or if you have a better financial aid package from another school, be open about it. Lying or making up exaggerated stories can only worsen the situation and you may end up getting a lot less than what you need.
  3. Wait a minute. Most admissions committees will distribute all their allotted scholarship funds to admitted students. However, not all students will accept the offer and additional funds become available as these students accept other offers. Wait a week or two before inquiring about additional funding. You will want that time to build your case. And, don’t forget to follow up.
  4. Consider other sources. If you were not granted the additional funding that you were hoping for, don’t feel hopeless. There are several other options you can take advantage of. Conduct research on third party organizations that provide grants or offer scholarships, such as the Forté Fellows program and the Association of American University Women.

While Financial Aid is not part of the admission process, and not a consideration for admissions, business schools take need seriously and once they admit you will try to put together a package that makes the MBA possible. Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are one component of that package. The Financial Aid office is separate from admissions and can be extremely helpful in working with you. A person from a modest background who has bootstrapped her/himself to success will get considerable support for helping to succeed in achieving their next professional goal.

In related news, GMAC reported on B-School ROI in February 2015 and reference Forté’s infographic The Value of an MBA for Women.

If you need help or want to learn more, feel free to get in touch with InGenius Prep’s admissions experts. Email and we will be glad to help you out.


Ellen-SkinnerEllen Skinner of InGenius Prep is the former Executive Director of Yale University’s Executive MBA program and a graduate of Yale School of Management. Ellen enjoys mentoring and seeing students develop their professional aspirations into actionable steps. Ellen loves to hike and “dig in the dirt” in her gardens.

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