Scholarships: Why Many Fail To Negotiate

Medical doctor, Israel Defense Forces lieutenant and MIT MBA candidate Dana Buchbut

Medical doctor, Israel Defense Forces lieutenant and MIT MBA candidate Dana Buchbut

hr-mba-scholarshipsIt would be reasonable to believe that when some of the smartest people in the world go shopping for something costing more than many a decent house, they’d do everything they could to pay the lowest possible price. It would be reasonable, but it would be wrong.

Although a good number of business schools are willing to negotiate over scholarship funding – sometimes even matching or beating offers from other schools pursuing the same students – many MBA applicants make no attempt to haggle.

“I was not actually aware that was even an option for business school. That thought didn’t even cross my mind at that time,” says Brittany Agee, who had received scholarship offers of $30,000 from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, and $50,000 from Michigan State’s Broad College of Business. Her first choice, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, admitted her but offered nothing. “I was just ecstatic to be admitted,” Agee says.

Agee, a 27-year-old Phoenix native, had followed her BA in philosophy at Dartmouth College with internships in the health care field and supply chain management, plus a stint as a senior marketing associate, and three years as a business analyst for Fannie Mae. Her gender, along with her non-traditional background and real-world business experience put her in the target group for business schools wanting to up their level of diversity.


For Agee, having no previous business education, Ross’s core offerings and emphasis on management skills appealed to her, and her career focus in operations made the prospect of working in the U of M’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations attractive.

In choosing to enroll at Ross, which she believed would provide the best fit given her background and ambitions, Agee made a smart choice: nearly everyone in the admissions field advises would-be MBA candidates to put the school above the money, because the lifelong benefits of the former tend to vastly outweigh the shorter-term value of the latter.

But the decision to accept Ross’s no-scholarship offer without a murmur?

MBA candidate Brittany Agee, Ross School of Business

MBA candidate Brittany Agee, Ross School of Business

“Now I’m improving my business skills through classes I’m taking here,” Agee says somewhat ruefully.

Amrut Acharya received a $60,000 MBA scholarship offer from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, and a $40,000 offer from the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business. Smith proposed another $25,000 worth of graduate assistantship work.

Acharya, 28, came from India, where he’d worked as a systems engineer for Infosys and a services consultant for CA Technologies. Acharya considered both schools essentially equal in benefits they would provide him. Cox’s offer would give him financial support and he’d be able to devote his time to his MBA without assistantship work. Also, Texas had a strong economy.


Acharya, too, made a good choice, enrolling at Cox. But he missed a chance to angle for more funding. With his 700 GMAT score, Acharya had a position of strength: he would give a bump to the averages of either Cox, where it’s 652, or Smith, where it’s 665.

“I didn’t negotiate,” Acharya says. “I should have consulted with people. I know now that there was room for the negotiation that I could have done.”

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