Show Me The Money: How A Scholarship Committee Decides

Leigh, Gauthier, acting director of MBA Recruitment & Admissions at Rotman

Leigh, Gauthier, acting director of MBA Recruitment & Admissions at Rotman

‘PEOPLE ARE MORE THAN NUMBERS–BUT NUMBERS DON’T LIE’

“People are more than numbers,” insists Leigh Gauthier, acting director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Rotman. “Making a good admission decision means looking at all of the facts (science) and then using intuition and experience (art) to determine if a person will be a good fit for your program. On the other hand, numbers don’t lie. So to make a truly effective decision both rationale and emotion need to be combined and one should not be at the expense of the other.” (See Gauthier’s more detailed description of the four core attributes Rotman seeks in candidates).

Clearly, the way to get a scholarship offer is make sure an application appeals to both the art and the science of admissions and to fire on all four cylinders of Rotman’s core metrics, from intellectual horsepower to spikiness. That’s also the way to multiply the size of one’s grant from the school. Still, the decisions here are shaped by both conscious and unconscious biases. Instead of being a pure meritocracy, it is–as it should be–a highly subjective process informed by past judgments, assumptions, and rationalizations.

Despite the limited amount of money to lure students, the other guideline for the meeting is, as Frey puts it, to “put your best offer on the table right out of the gate. When you see real talent, you don’t want to under bid. If you want to sign Lebron James to be on the team, you get one shot. If you don’t make your best offer, they’re gone.”

‘THE SCHOLARSHIP COMMITTEE IS A HAPPY PLACE’

After all, some offers will be turned down. No school knows for sure who will eventually turn up in later rounds. So if a school likes a candidate, the theory is that everything should be done to get him or her in the door. And when an admissions official recommends a $30,000 or $40,0000 scholarship, there is little thought as to how much the pool shrinks with each award. Instead, the mindset is, what will it take to get a sought-after applicant to accept the Rotman invitation?

Today, the scholarship committee is composed of a half dozen officials. Besides Frey and acting director Gauthier, there’s Niki da Silva, the head of admissions at Rotman who currently is on a year-long maternity leave that began last June, and then three assistant directors—Afrodite Cruz, Sheldon Dookernan and Dimitra Tsalpouris.

At the meeting, the mood is upbeat. After all, these early admission decisions have already been made. It’s just a Santa Claus question of how much money each will receive. “The scholarship committee is a happy place,” jokes Frey. “If you get brought to the committee, you are scholarship worthy. In most cases, it’s a matter of how much—not if.” In any given year, the committee might turn down only a dozen of the applicants for rewards.

A CANADIAN IN FINANCE WITH A 750-PLUS GMAT GETS $20,000

Cruz is up first. She opens a blue file on the white-topped table before her and begins to rattle off the basic details: The mid-20s North American works in a managerial role for a non-profit organization where he has scored multiple promotions in just a few years. With a 750-plus GMAT, the candidate has a score that is well above Rotman’s 672 average and a GPA of 3.4 from a well-known North American university. His short-term goal is to work in finance, but long-term he would like to become an entrepreneur.

“A reference says he has an entrepreneurial spirit,” notes Cruz. “He did very well on his interview, a 19 out of 20.” Rotman scores each interview on a 20-point scale, with 20 being the highest grade a person could receive. Cruz also gives the candidate an “impression ranking” of nine, on a scale of ten. She recommends a $30,000 award.

“Why did he do so well in the interview?” asks da Silva.

“He had great answers to all the questions,” says Cruz firmly. “You know how we are looking for a lot of meat in the answers. He gave just enough detail to let me understand exactly what he does at work. He didn’t seem rehearsed. He was right on.”

“But does he have what it will take to move from that management space to finance?,” asks Dookernan. “I’m a little reluctant to think that he can.”

Da Silva, sitting at the head of the table, agrees. “He seems light in years and in experience for that transition. He is spiky from a horsepower perspective, but I wonder if he could succeed in investment banking.”

Gauthier, who has headed up Rotman’s Career Center for the last three years, chimes in as well. “We need to think about how transferable his skills are to finance. I think he’s a solid admit, but the $30,000 seems high.”

Cruz throws a few more facts on the table in an attempt to offset the committee’s reservations. But ultimately the group cuts a third of the her recommended $30,000 grant and settles on its average $20,000 scholarship.

THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPRESSION

The room’s attention turns to Tsalpouris, who joined Rotman’s admissions staff a year ago after having worked in marketing at a rival Canadian business school, York University. Her candidate is a twenty-something woman from China who is employed by a global bank and is also an entrepreneur having founded a business on the side. She boasts a 750-plus GMAT as well and a 3.6 GPA in economics from a university in China. The candidate speaks perfect English, and it’s clear that Tsalpouris has been deeply impressed by her.

In an enthusiastic voice, Tsalpouris tells her colleagues that she gave the candidate a 19 on the interview. “She left a really great impression on me so I gave her an impression ranking of ten. I recommended $40,000.”

Frey sits back in his chair and flashes a dubious grin. “I met her, and I wouldn’t have given her the same scores,” he says. “Maybe it was a bad day or moment, but my single interaction with her made no lasting impression.”

Undaunted, Tsalpouris ignores Frey’s statement and plows ahead on the candidate’s behalf. But the comment underscores a vital truth about MBA admissions: Every interaction matters, from an open house or class visit to a coffee hour or local reception. An applicant might think she is there to get information on a school yet there is no event at which a candidate is not being evaluated, and those assessments end up at both the admissions table and the scholarship table.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.