MBA Scholarships At Top Business Schools

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

The first in a series on the growth in MBA scholarship money and what it means

The first in a series on the growth in MBA scholarship money and what it means

One of the more closely guarded secrets among business schools is how much scholarship money is annually given in support of a school’s MBA program.

Schools which routinely dole out a lot of cash typically don’t mind sharing that information. After all, it makes them look good. They’ve been able to marshall the resources to help students who would otherwise have to borrow a lot of money to go to business school.

On the other hand, schools that have meager scholarship budgets tend to hoard the information. Making numbers public that embarrass the school among its peers is a no-win proposition. Candidates with that knowledge may be less eager to apply to a school where aid is less certain, and the fact that a scholarship war chest is puny is a reflection on a school’s ability to raise funds from alumni and others.


Poets&Quants spent weeks interviewing dozens of business school deans, admissions and financial aid directors, admission consultants and students who received grants to come up with solid numbers on the MBA scholarship game. In most cases, schools provided far more data than they customarily do. When a school remained tight lipped, Poets&Quants made estimates based on interviews with rival school officials and admission consultants. Those estimates were shared with each school so that it had ample opportunity to correct them. Officials at such schools as Columbia and Wharton would not confirm or deny the estimates.

What did we find? In the past five years, the scholarship game has really heated up. The Top 25 business schools now hand out some $232.7 million a year in scholarships. Surprisingly, the most aggressive players aren’t those with the necessarily the biggest scholarship war chests. In fact, the business schools that now offer scholarship funding that equals a third or more of their gross annual tuition includes Washington University, Notre Dame University, Indiana University, and Vanderbilt University.

The most generous top business school of all? Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, where the $6.7 million scholarship pool equals 59% of the MBA program’s gross tuition revenue. Jones only has 216 full-time MBA students, but 94% are awarded no-strings-attached scholarships that average $33,320 a year. The school says that 98% of the students get the same amount or more in their second year of study.


Admission consultants say that in the past year Wharton and MIT have become more aggressive in the scholarship game. Shawn O’Connor, founder of Stratus Admissions Counseling, says that he had a client last year with a 760 GMAT that had been offered a full ride by MIT Sloan. Wharton matched the offer and won the candidate. “Once you get a scholarship from one school, it’s definitely a chit you can use to negotiate with other schools,” says O’Connor.

Most schools have significantly upped their game in the past five years. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management went from $5.8 million in scholarship funding to $12.1 million. UC-Berkeley went from $3.2 million to $5.8 million. Washington University’s Olin School increased its average scholarship grant to an MBA student to $31,328 from $26,200. And the pool of money available for scholarships at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has risen 80% to $15.7 million this year from $8.7 million five years ago. Stanford’s average student fellowship grant this year is $35,830, higher than any other business school.

Harvard and Stanford say they only provide need-based scholarship funding–and will never negotiate financial aid with a candidate leveraging a rival offer–but most of the other business schools are spending their money to attract the absolute best candidates, regardless of need. These are strictly merit-based scholarships meant to land the best and the brightest.


With the money, they’re hoping to increase the overall quality and diversity of incoming classes, often dangling money in front of candidates who are under-represented in the applicant pool. In some cases, the increasing amounts of scholarship funding reflects the belief that the cost of the MBA degree has gone so high that schools are trying to keep down the amount of debt their students are borrowing.

In some cases, schools are literally buying high GMATs and GPAs, to better position their MBA programs in rankings that use those metrics, such as U.S. News & World Report.

Less surprising is the fact that Harvard Business School has the single biggest war chest: $31.5 million, a sum equal to 28.6% of the school’s $111 million in gross tuition revenue. At Harvard, some 65% of the 1,868 MBA students get some form of aid, while 50% receive need-based fellowships (which is what HBS calls a scholarship).

(See following page for how much each school now gives away in scholarship support)

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