This year the draft began just after breakfast in a conference room at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel. The school with the most first choice rankings from applicants went first. An admissions officer from the school publicly announced which of its first choice candidates would be offered fellowships. “We go around the table and each school goes through their first round applicants and will say, ‘We offer fellowships to six, and we pass on these two,’” explains Aranda. “The first choice school has the first right of refusal. So if a school passes on an applicant in any round, then another school can pick the applicant in a later round. ”
The 2011 crop of applicants yielded some 3,011 MBA applications to Consortium schools, roughly 3.3 applications per candidate. Many of these applicants also apply to non-Consortium schools, particularly Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and Chicago, which are not members of the group. Indeed, in any given year, as many as 50 applicants who are offered Consortium fellowships turn them down—because they preferred go to a Harvard or Stanford which may offer their own financial aid incentives.
During the draft, Consortium schools typically offer fellowships to more applicants than each school has available to account for some turndowns. “It’s a lot of art and only a little bit of science,” explains Aranda. “If an offer from Michigan falls out and the person goes to Northwestern instead, Michigan will pick more than they will eventually pay for to adjust for that. The whole process takes about four hours.”
When the group was done last month, 323 applicants were offered the merit-based fellowships. Webb was among Yale’s first-round picks, while Arriola was among Cornell’s first-round selections. “My parents were without words they were so happy and proud,” says Arriola. Webb’s parents were equally thrilled. “My parents are very involved in my life,” he says. “I still have educational loans, but they sacrificed a lot and invested a lot in me. They’ve been with me every step of the way, and they are very excited. I consider this a chance to blaze a trail.”
Aranda, himself a beneficiary of this process 27 years ago, views each of these awards as something of a lifeline to young people who might otherwise not be able to attend a top business school. Each fellowship, he believes, can open a door to unlimited opportunity. “Diversity is not a minority problem,” maintains Aranda. “It’s an American opportunity.”