What Kinds Of Students Win The Scholarship Game?

Applicants with military backgrounds are prized. - Ethan Baron photo

Applicants with military backgrounds are prized. – Ethan Baron photo

At Sloan, which broke the 40% mark for females this year for the first time, granting fellowships is one method the school uses to attract women, MBA director Herson says.

Across the U.S., business school officials wanting to integrate alternative perspectives into classrooms packed with students interested in banking and finance hunger for technology-focused applicants. “This is definitely a group that everyone’s interested in,” Hodara says.


West Coast schools such as Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business have, in their proximity to the coast’s tech industry and networks of alumni working in it and leading it, a significant advantage over eastern institutions, Hodara says. “For schools on the East Coast, they are really interested in people who are idea innovators, and technology-industry driven,” Hodara says. “This is not to say that (people from) those backgrounds don’t apply to Wharton or HBS, but the pull after admission, when considering alumni networks and access to career opportunities, seems to be where they may find more colleagues with that kind of thinking. The alumni networks have a lot to do with it.”

However, it may not be evident to MBA applicants that some schools in the middle and east of the country have made progress in providing opportunities for students interested in the tech sector, Hodara says.

Soojin Kwon

Ross admissions director Soojin Kwon

Ross admissions director Soojin Kwon says, “One of the most surprising things for people thinking about business school and where they should be is that Michigan actually has a pretty strong network outside the Midwest. This year, more than 10% of the MBA class is from California.

“This may be the first year, with this incoming class, where California students outnumber the New York area students. It’s actually been pretty exciting to see the gradual increase in students from the West Coast saying, ‘Wow, there’s a great network of alums on the West Coast . . . I can get back out there.'”


Applicants with military backgrounds represent another target group for schools seeking diversity, and America’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have added war-fighting to veterans’ resumes, highlighting their experience working in complex, chaotic environments, notes MIT Sloan School of Management MBA director Maura Herson.

“For many years in the ’90s we never had any veterans of active conflict,” Herson says. “There’s a whole bunch of military folks coming out right now that are really good in MBA programs. They have a reasonably strong sense of who they are. They’re strong leaders . . . team oriented.”

It may come as a surprise that many schools also want students from liberal arts backgrounds – with degrees in history, for example, or philosophy – people who have “a different way of thinking,” Hodara says. Admissions and financial aid officers may ask, “Who else is out there who would add to an interesting conversation in the classroom?”

HBS scholarship recipient Natalie Allen

HBS scholarship recipient Natalie Allen

Non-traditional science backgrounds carry value as well. Stanford, Sloan, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Harvard Business School all appreciated Natalie Allen’s education – bachelor’s degree in environmental science and biology from the University of Virginia and master’s in environment management from Duke University – and career history. All five schools offered admission to Allen, who had worked in fisheries monitoring for ICF International, done a fellowship surveying wetlands for the Environmental Protection Agency, and held a job as a climate change analyst for Defenders of Wildlife. HBS was the only school to offer scholarship money: $29,000 per year. “I did not come from a particularly well-paying career prior to coming to business school,” says Allen, 27. “If you’re coming from a traditional finance or consulting background, it’s not such a big deal to pay lots of money.”

The pursuit of diversity can extend across multiple aspects of applicants’ personal histories. “Certain industries are coveted, certain educational backgrounds are coveted, certain post-graduate experiences,” Hodara says. “Schools may say, ‘We’re okay with consultants and bankers’ . . . or, ‘We want more people in social impact or non-profit management.'”

The trend among business schools to accept GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores reflects the drive among admissions officials to capture students from non-traditional backgrounds, Hodara says.


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


The Often Frenzied Pursuit Of The Best Students

The Bottom Line: MBA Scholarships At Top Business Schools

Show Me The Money: How A Scholarship Committee Decides

What Kinds Of Students Win The Scholarship Game

Why Many Fail To Negotiate Scholarship Offers

How NOT To Haggle For Scholarship Cash

Consultants Hype MBA Scholarship Awards To Clients

How A Scholarship Can Transform A Life


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