The whats, whys, and hows behind MBA scholarships

Getting an MBA scholarship can open the door to your dream program. We spoke to leading business schools and a top admissions expert to understand the whats, whys, and hows of winning a scholarship.

In short

Types of MBA scholarships

An MBA is an expensive pursuit, with around one in three students reporting that cost is their biggest obstacle to studying one. With tuition fees on the rise again, students are becoming increasingly reliant on MBA scholarships to fund their studies

The scholarships available to students differ from school to school. Shri Ramakrishnan is the Assistant Director of Graduate Recruitment at Whitman School of Management. She told us that their scholarships fall into two categories: need-based and merit-based. Merit-based scholarships – which are more common at Whitman – reward excellent academic and work performance, while need-based scholarships are awarded based on the applicant’s financial situation.

“We primarily offer all scholarships based only on merit. If [the scholarship] is based on need, then it goes into a different type of consideration depending on how much money is available to accommodate such requests,” Shri explains. (10:49)

Dylan Mosenthal, Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Gabelli School of Business, told us that their range of MBA scholarships starts from a $30,000 grant to the so-called Dean’s Premier Scholarship. This covers all tuition fees and related expenses – as well as an additional $20,000 to cover living costs.

“We generally give about five students in the program that top award, and then for the remainder of the students, roughly 70% will receive some form of merit-based scholarship within that range that I mentioned – $30,000 to the Dean’s Premier Scholarship,” adds Dylan. (02:44

How do business schools decide who to award MBA scholarships to?

Knowing which scholarships are on offer is only the first step of a long process. We asked Dylan how the Gabelli School of Business decides who to award MBA scholarships to.

He says, “We’re really looking at the strength of their application from two perspectives – one being the business school perspective. Are we a good fit for you? Are you a good fit for the program? Are you going to be someone who is active, involved and will participate in the classroom?” (04:34) 

“The other perspective is the employer perspective…we want someone who has thrived prior to being in the MBA,” he continues. “They’ve had an upward trajectory in their career, they’ve worked for five or six years, they’ve taken on leadership positions.” (05:29)

Perhaps your chances of scholarship success can be boiled down to something even simpler. Angela Guido is an MBA admissions expert and founder of Career Protocol. She helps students all over the world fund their studies. She believes that forming a personal connection with the admissions committee throughout the MBA application process could make or break your chances.

“The other way they make the decision on who to give money to is based entirely on the personal preference of the person in charge of making the decision,” Angela asserts. “They’re human, just like you and me, [so] they’re going to want to give money to the people that they really like and believe in.” (07:08)

Negotiating your scholarship offer

If you’re lucky enough to receive a scholarship offer, that’s not the end of the road. Many business schools are ready and willing to negotiate when it comes to your scholarship – as long as you can justify your reasoning for requesting a bigger grant.

“There is room to negotiate. I wouldn’t say that every negotiation is going to go in favor of the student, but we don’t stop a student from speaking to us. We love students to come back to us and explain why they want to negotiate a scholarship offer,” Shri explains. (11:17) She also emphasizes that it’s about explaining your situation, rather than simply asking for more money.

“Picture an appeals committee in a very similar light as an admissions committee. At your appeal they’re looking at what you wrote and making a decision, so the more substantive information you can give about why you deserve a scholarship, the more likely you are to get that appeal granted,” says Dylan. (10:16)

But there are more benefits to negotiating beyond the chance of extra money. Angela says that negotiating with your business school is also great preparation for your future career.

“We really push all of our clients to go and ask for more money to negotiate more scholarships, because the worst thing that can happen is they say no! This is great training for your post-MBA job negotiation, when you’re going to have to negotiate your salary,” she says. (10:52)

How to get an MBA scholarship

So what’s the secret to scholarship success? Shri believes that shifting your focus away from the biggest scholarships and considering alternative sources of funding could boost your chances of securing one.

“It’s important that students don’t discount smaller amounts of assistance because it’s not as prestigious as a named award. Look into every possibility and capitalize on all of the opportunities,” Shri recommends. (15:38)

Despite what you might read and hear online, there is no magic formula for winning an MBA scholarship. Academic performance, work experience, and interview skills all matter, but Dylan says that authenticity is one of the most important elements of any successful application.

“One thing I always tell students is that you want to be authentic,” he tells us. “One of the mistakes that students make in the process is they put things in their application that they think the admissions committee wants to see. We want to know what makes you unique, and I think that is one way to differentiate yourself and put yourself in a better position to receive a scholarship.” (16:04)

“Being yourself and being authentic is one of the most important qualities you can bring to the application process.” (17:36)

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