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

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‘IF YOU START NEGOTIATING, WORD WILL GET OUT INTO THE MARKETPLACE’

Admissions and financial aid officials are generally reluctant to describe scholarship negotiations, and tend to downplay any haggling that may go on. “We’re seeing a lot of people who are getting fellowship offers across more than one program. We get a lot of requests with that kind of negotiation (but) it’s very unusual that we would reconsider a fellowship offer,” says Maura Herson, MBA director at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Sloan officials typically avoid matching or beating other schools’ offers because word of such behavior can spread quickly in the age of social media, Herson says. “If you start negotiating with people it’s going to go into the marketplace and then everyone’s going to want that. It’s not a good strategy.”

Negotiation over scholarship money occurs most frequently at the top schools that offer merit-based funding, Davis-Blake says. “The more elite you are the more it happens because you have more scholarship money to parse out,” Davis-Blake says.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business has seen admitted students snatched away by other institutions, says dean John Delaney.

EVEN A FULL RIDE TO AN MBA PROGRAM CAN BE TOPPED BY STIPENDS & OTHER PERKS

“Sometimes when we offer a full scholarship, it’s not unusual for people to come back and say they are getting a scholarship and a stipend from another school,” Delaney tells Poets&Quants. “We have lost students in some cases because they were getting more from the other schools that accepted them. It’s going to be necessary for schools to differentiate themselves better, or they will fall into this problem all the time.”

Usually, business school officials use merit-based aid “to motivate an applicant whose academic profile is well above the average for that institution and therefore would help boost the class profile and, in turn, elevate the school’s ranking and prestige,” says Dan Bauer, a former admissions interviewer for Harvard Business School and the founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange admission consulting.

“A B-school uses the offer of merit-based aid to encourage such admits to commit to their institution rather than a higher ranked or more prestigious school that charges about the same tuition. For example, if offered admission to both schools, would a strong applicant rather attend Duke for free or Wharton for full price? That’s a tough decision for many individuals. At the risk of generalizing, the more ‘overqualified’ an admit is, the more merit-based aid he or she can expect from a less selective school.”

NEED-BASED VS. MERIT-BASED SCHOLARSHIPS: DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Two schools at the very crown of the elite level, Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, say they offer only need-based financial aid, and no merit scholarships, exempting themselves to some extent from the competitive fray by virtue of their extraordinarily high “yields” – the number of students who actually enroll after receiving an admission offer. HBS has a yield of 89%, while the GSB’s is about 84%.

“One of the most selective business schools in the world, Stanford GSB offers admission to the highest quality students,” GSB financial aid director Jack Edwards says. “Our financial aid program is designed to remove any financial obstacles to their attendance at Stanford GSB.”

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, though high on any list of elite institutions, does offer merit-based scholarships. “An MBA is a large investment and there’s a lot of talent out there coming from different fields, backgrounds, experiences,” says assistant admissions director Glenn Carrere. “The factor of price can be stressful depending on different backgrounds. It’s really about finding an opportunity for students we feel will be a tremendous fit in the community and the culture.”

SECOND-TIER SCHOOLS TAKE A MORE FOCUSED APPROACH TO SPENDING SCHOLARSHIP CASH

Carrere says back-and-forth negotiating with applicants over scholarships “is not something that happens . . . it does not go down in that particular way.” If a student with multiple offers comes seeking scholarship funds beyond any they may have been offered, “we’ll take another look” but when it comes to, ‘X school offered me this, what can you do?’ that is not something we really participate in,” Carrere says.

However, two admissions consultants tell Poets&Quants that Booth is among the schools most generous with scholarship money, using it to attract students away from other highly ranked institutions.

Lower-level schools are taking a more focused approach to spending scholarship money, targeting one or two categories of students they want to add, such as those with histories of academic excellence or backgrounds that boost a school’s diversity, Ross Dean Davis-Blake says.

Bottom line, many schools will spend money to acquire a particular student, but only if they have to. “They’re also asking themselves that question, ‘What’s the likelihood of this person coming here without the aid – do we need it in order to win somebody whom we would otherwise lose?'” Bauer says.

Anderson director of financial aid Ji Choi says the school doesn’t negotiate over scholarships, but has seen an increase in requests from students to do so.

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