By any measure, this young female professional hit the scholarship jackpot. Admitted to seven of the world’s top MBA programs, she applied early in round one, with a 740 GMAT score and a 3.6-grade point average on her engineering degree from a liberal arts school on the east coast. She is a caucasian, from the U.S. and working in a non-traditional industry, urban planning, for an MBA student.
But her overall application clearly made her one of the most desirable candidates this year. New York University’s Stern School of Business offered her a full ride to attend its MBA program. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business dangled a $110,000 discount on its tuition. Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business coughed up a cool $100,000 grant. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Columbia Business School both offered her scholarships worth $90,000. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business managed an $80,000 enticement.
“Her MBA application defined her leadership style within a male-dominated workplace and showed her grasp of the strategic trends in the urban planning industry,” says Stacy Blackman, founder and CEO of the MBA admissions consulting firm that bears her name. “She has had a lifelong passion for urban planning, and she wrote about how multiple aspects of her life represented a ‘path less traveled.'”
THE NUMBER AND THE VALUE OF MBA SCHOLARSHIP AWARDS HAS NEVER BEEN HIGHER
All told, six schools showered the Stacy Blackman client with scholarship awards that totaled a combined $620,000. But she ended up turning every single offer down. Why? Because she also got an admit to Harvard Business School, her number one choice. Even though her HBS invite would only come with an estimated $20,000 in a need-based award, she decided to say ‘yes’ to Harvard because of its networks, global brand, and academic experience.
As applications to full-time MBA programs continue to decline at the elite U.S. business schools for the third consecutive year, the value of and the number of scholarship grants have never been higher. MBA admission consultants say scholarship awards are up by at least 30% and possibly more in the past three years alone, with individual grants going as high as $200,000, including annual $10,000 stipends, all in an effort to convince the most desirable candidates in the applicant pool to say ‘yes’ to an offer of admission. It is not unusual for some candidates to have multiple scholarship awards from the very top schools.
A Poets&Quants‘ survey of leading MBA admission firms confirms the trend. “Desired applicants are getting more money this year,” says Scott Edinburgh, founder of Personal MBA Coach. “This is because schools are fighting for top applicants. Our average scholarship recipient client received $115,000 in Round 1, sometimes across multiple schools. We are seeing more schools offering to match scholarships as well. In previous years we saw more partial matches. Now we are seeing more full matches. Schools that did not give any scholarships to a client come back and match $80,000 to $100,000 because another school gave out such an offer.”
THE MOST AGGRESSIVE SCHOOLS: NYU STERN, KELLOGG, BOOTH & UCLA
Business schools are increasing both the number of admits receiving aid and the amounts of the awards for several reasons. “As application volume at many schools decreases, the competition among top schools to enroll the best admits is on the rise,” says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, a top MBA admissions consulting firm. “This drives some adcoms to sweeten selected admission offers with scholarships and fellowships. MBA programs are very conscious of their yield (the percentage of admits who actually enroll). So, presenting candidates with substantial aid is an incentive to matriculate. Finally, applicants with the strongest records are likely to earn acceptance to multiple schools and, in turn, can capitalize by negotiating with the schools over the amount of award.”
This year, some consultants say, they are seeing schools offer grants weeks after an admit decision to close the deal. “Several top 10 programs are circling back to admitted students with scholarship offers several weeks or even a month after providing the original admissions decision, which could help sway a highly desirable applicant on the fence about several programs,” says Meredith Shields, Co-Founder & President of Vantage Point, a leading MBA admissions firm. “In the past, I’ve usually seen applicants learn of any scholarship offers at the time of their admissions decision, which to me, indicates that there’s a very active and ongoing dialogue around scholarship offers this year as the classes continue to shape up.”
Admission consultants say the schools that are most aggressively using scholarships to sway applicants right now are NYU Stern, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, and UCLA. Rajdeep Chimni, the founder of Admissions Gateway, the leading admissions consultancy in India, says that Kellogg has really raised the game. “The school most likely to give a big scholarship in the top-five is now Kellogg,” says Chimni, who is a Kellogg MBA. “Our candidates got more than a million dollars in scholarship offers at Kellogg in R1 alone. About 52% of our clients applying to Kellogg got scholarships of $40,000 to $150,000 at an average of $95,800.” Overall, he adds, “two years ago most grants were $30,000 to $70,000 with an intermittent $100,000. “Now most grants are $40,000 to $165,000 with more grants over $70,000 and more full $150K grants (see below table on the average size of grants at top schools for Stacy Blackman clients in 2019-2018).”
THE VALUE OF SCHOLARSHIPS ARE UP BETWEEN 33% AND 50% IN THE PAST THREE YEARS
At Accepted. com, another leading MBA admissions consulting firm, MBA clients experienced a 40% jump in scholarship dollars offered to them in 2019-20 over 2018-19. “We also had 31% more clients receive scholarship offers,” says Accepted.com Founder and CEO Linda Abraham, “and our clients’ average scholarship offer was 17% higher in 2019 than in 2018. I don’t have data from 3 years ago. I would guess that it’s 33-50% higher than three years ago.”
While the percentages may vary from firm to firm, everyone agrees the numbers are up. Moreover, every school, regardless of its MBA rank or brand value, is playing the game. “Steady players are Wharton, MIT Sloan, Michigan Ross, and Yale SOM,” adds Edinburgh. “Columbia Business School continues to offer significant money to strong applicants. Each year we have a few applicants getting full rides to Columbia and that seems to be rising for us at least. UCLA Anderson has increased its scholarship budget. We are seeing Berkeley Haas offer attractive scholarships to the right applicants. More so than in previous years, NYU Stern and USC Marshall are offering full rides. European schools tend to not have as large budgets, so we are seeing consistent scholarship offers at INSEAD and London Business School.”
For many second-tier business schools, in fact, scholarship support has become a means of survival. “Lower ranked graduate management programs have a harder time filling student spots and that is exacerbated significantly during these strong U.S. economic and uncertain political times,” believes Blackman. “For these programs, scholarship offers are a mode of survival to allow the program to weather the cyclical demand without shrinking student class beyond survival. These programs are likely ramping up their scholarship offers in recent years.”