Unable To Get A Deferral From A U.S. School, This MBA Candidate Opted For Europe

HEC Paris

Marcelo Stilman wanted to come to the U.S. to study. But coronavirus made that impossible this year — and he couldn’t get a deferral from his school of choice.

Stilman, a native of Sao Paolo, Brazil, was selected to join the Johnson Graduate School of Management’s one-year Accelerated MBA program in the fall of 2020. But in March, the world imploded over the novel coronavirus Covid-19, upending schedules, graduations, and curricula across graduate business education. As economies around the world began to constrict, Stilman — overwhelmed by family, currency, and travel concerns — asked Cornell for a deferral to fall 2021, or in lieu of that, a return of his $3,000 deposit.

He was denied both. In response, Stilman, 31, began to look elsewhere. Among the other schools where he applied was HEC Paris, which has a 16-month MBA that appeals to the newly married business manager with experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He was accepted and will start in the fall of 2021.

“Their support was really good and they were really interested in me,” Stilman tells Poets&Quants. Moreover, he adds, “I think it is a better school than some of its American counterparts.”


Marcelo Stilman. LInkedIn photo

Not every U.S. school took a hard line on deferrals this year. Harvard Business School liberally granted deferrals to just about every international student who asked. In July, bowing to reality, Stanford Graduate School of Business invited admitted international MBA students experiencing difficulty getting student visas or facing travel restrictions to apply for deferrals to either the fall of 2021 or the fall of 2022. Other top schools’ responses to inquiries by P&Q mostly ran the gamut from “no comment” to “no deferrals,” with a few softening their language to soften the impact. Among the more notably accommodating institutions were Columbia Business School and Virginia Darden, both of which adjusted their policies early to acknowledge the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to grant deferrals was not without immediate impact to schools’ bottom line. HBS’ decision led directly to the school enrolling a fall 2020 MBA class that was more than 200 students short of its more typical 930 to 940 students. At Stanford, which typically has a fairly strict deferral policy and only grants postponements in the event of serious illness, personal tragedy, or military deployment, the decision to be more flexible did not affect class size, which was again in the 415-420 range this fall. But it did make for for “turbulence,” as described by Paul Ofer, senior associate dean for academic affairs.

“Despite our expectations that embassies would begin opening in July, many continue to offer limited visa services,” wrote Kirsten Moss in a July 13 email to international admits describing the school’s reasoning for opening the door to more deferrals. “We recognize the stress this has caused for international students who need a visa to travel to Stanford, and we want to support you during this challenging time.”


Embassy closures were a factor in Stanford’s decision in July and they were a factor for Marcelo Stilman, who says even now, in December, U.S. consulates in Brazil remain closed. But there were many other reasons that HEC Paris won Stilman over, among them the school’s empathy and transparency.

“Since day one, HEC Paris answers my emails quickly and with complete answers,” he says. “So, I found out that they really have an interest in me and are transparent. I did not have this type of ‘treatment’ from any U.S. peers — for example, usually for U.S. schools, I had to remind them of my questions one week later.”

He points to rankings that put HEC Paris among the world’s top B-schools, including the newly released Financial Times ranking of European schools that ranks HEC Paris as No. 1.

“It is amazing how HEC Paris grew a lot in the last years on every ranking I have verified,” he says. “It was the best school I have been accepted to and in my opinion, it has a lot of potential to grow even more.”

For ROI, Stilman says, HEC Paris is a school with few peers. It is among the cheapest schools he has researched, at €74,000 (about $90K), and it helps that he got a merit-based scholarship of 20%. “Moreover, with an average salary of more than €100K, I could repay the whole experience in less than three years, whereas other U.S. programs would be something like more than five years,” he says. “Schools I have been accepted to in the U.S. did not gave me any merit- or financial-based scholarships.”

As a citizen, through his family, of the European Union, Stilman will have no visa issues. And as a newly married man whose wife wants to study in France, Stilman’s acceptance to HEC Paris is a dream come true.

“It was my wife’s dream to make a master’s at Sorbonne in France, so I am also doing this for her,” he says.


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