The MBA Scholarship Wars: An Often Frenzied Pursuit For The Best Students

Top business schools are handing out increasing amounts of cash to lure applicants

Top business schools are handing out increasing amounts of cash to lure applicants

Given the high stakes involved, schools are also trying to get smarter about using the cash they have to get the best candidates. At UCLA’s Anderson School, for example, the admissions staff consulted with one of its economists and finance professors, Ivo Welch, to see how it could maximize yield by using its $12.1 million in annual scholarship money more effectively. “When you focus too much aid at the top with full fellowships to super great candidates, you run out of money fast,” explains Weiller. “Welch asked us, ‘What if you just award $5,000 and took it really far down the list and signaled to as many applicants as possible that they were wanted?’ We thought about it and decided that $5,000 was probably not enough. Maybe if it was $10,000 it would be more impactful. So we started spreading the awards down to the next tier down. That is now where the $15,000 awards get made. These are really solid people and we award to a good 50% of our students now.”

NEGOTIATION OVER A SCHOLARSHIP AWARD WITH A SCHOOL IS MORE POSSIBLE THAN EVER

Luring the most talented students to an MBA class often involves head-to-head competition between schools, in some cases encouraging some applicants to try to negotiate offers. “That’s one of the secrets of the industry,” says Shimri Winters, owner of multinational admissions consulting firm Aringo. “I’ve definitely seen good candidates that have been accepted to two or three places feel very comfortable in asking for scholarships. They base their decision on the answer about these scholarships. The money can be a huge difference.”

School officials know their institution won’t be the only one offering enticements to the best applicants, Davis-Blake says. “Your most desirable students are going to be offered more money by someone. Now we have more people with scholarship offers, more diversity of offers. It’s a set-up for negotiations. It just has to be.”

Frequently, and increasingly, students offered scholarships at one school are going to other schools asking them to match or beat the aid amount, Davis-Blake says. “People ask for anything and everything,” Davis-Blake adds. “Asking doesn’t mean getting. All kinds of negotiations happen, just like they would over a salary for a job.”

GAINING IMPORTANT INTELLIGENCE ON THE SCHOLARSHIP GAME

The competition has led to Emory University’s Goizueta Business School to “over reward” because admissions and financial aid staff know competitors will be making scholarship offers, says dean of admissions Julie Barefoot. To gain intelligence for the scholarship game, Barefoot and other staff pay attention to what other schools are offering Goizueta applicants. “We watch Duke, Chapel Hill, Virginia, Cornell, and it is always good intel,” Barefoot says, adding that information from Goizueta applicants also targeting Harvard Business School provided an early revelation of HBS’ move to gain more female students through scholarship offers, a focus that soon caught on among other schools, Barefoot says.

Some schools deny negotiating over scholarships. Some admit to it. Some say they don’t but do and call it something else.

At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, financial aid director Susan Loduha says flatly, “Darden scholarships are not negotiable. Darden determines scholarships by selecting the top candidates in each round, then sending their data to the Scholarship Committee for review. They select the students that will receive a scholarship and the amount.” New York University’s Stern School of Business commented similarly: “NYU Stern does not negotiate scholarships.”

‘WE DON’T NEGOTIATE–VERY OFTEN’

MBA admissions director Evan Bouffides at Washington University’s Olin Business School says, “We do, in fact, engage in some negotiation. I believe it is becoming increasingly common for applicants to attempt to negotiate scholarship amounts,” Bouffides says.

Christie St. John, admissions director at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Business says applicants sometimes come back to the school asking it to match scholarship offers from other institutions but “we don’t negotiate very often.”

“We consider our competitive position with regard to that school, how many scholarship dollars remain at the time of year, all in the context of the merit of that candidate,” St. John says.

Applicants hoping to improve scholarship offers at Goizueta have no hope unless they can come up with something not in their original application that shows why they’d be a useful addition to the Goizueta student population, says admissions dean Barefoot. “If they don’t have new information that changes their candidacy, that changes where they meet our class profile, we are unlikely to change their award,” Barefoot says.

AN ADMISSIONS CONSULTANT SAYS SCHOOLS HAVE OFFERED TO SET ASIDE MONEY FOR THEIR CLIENTS

At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business “there is no room to negotiate” although “a lot of people will try,” says Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions. However, there’s negotiation, and there’s what sounds like negotiation but apparently doesn’t fit the school’s definition. “What we do is allow students to request an appeal for a scholarship,” Hubert says. “Normally they would email us and request additional scholarships. We keep track of those requests and revisit them at a later date. It is happening more and more. Sometimes even if they do hot have another better offer they will ask.”

At Ross, some matching of offers occurs, Davis-Blake says, adding that “if you’re engaged in a ton of over-matching that doesn’t seem like an appropriate use of funds.”

Does that mean Ross applicants with scholarship offers from other schools can only hope for a match at best and nothing more? “I wouldn’t say that,” Davis-Blake says. “There are so many outcomes that are possible. It’s very individualized.”

Aringo admissions consulting firm owner Shimri Winters says more than one but fewer than 10 schools have contacted the company saying they had set aside scholarship funds especially for Aringo clients in order that Aringo would ensure its best candidates would apply to those schools. “This is something new,” says Winters, adding that the schools were below the top 10. “We’ve been 12 years in the business and last year was the first time we’ve seen this. They’re offering (students) part of their yearly tuition – you can call it a discount to yearly tuition.”

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