Business school is an expensive investment, and it’s never too early to start figuring out how you will pay for it. We have witnessed a substantial increase in financial incentives offered to admitted applicants we’ve worked with this past admissions season. For that reason, we wanted to share our observations about current MBA scholarship trends at M7 schools.
Fortunately, business schools want to work with students to find a solution to financing the expense. Indeed, schools have always prioritized financial incentives to attract the best students to their programs.
MBA scholarship trends point to a sustained upswing over the last decade. The incremental increase we’ve observed is due in part to the rise in funding of advocacy groups. This primarily includes the Consortium (committed to enhancing diversity and inclusion in business education) and Forte Foundation (for women MBA applicants). Over the past few years, these organizations have boosted their scholarship support via their partner MBA programs.
MBA Scholarship Trends at M7 Schools
Among our clients, we’ve seen an annual increase of about 10 percent in scholarship awards over the past three years. It’s worth noting, however, that Stacy Blackman Consulting has seen full scholarship awards for many years—even before MBA demand trends changed.
If we saw MBA programs consistently matching awards or increasing the awards because of concern over losing the candidate, it would be a sign that schools are using scholarships to offset application decline and fill their student spots. But, this isn’t the case for the top 20 MBA programs. A scholarship signals that the school wants you and believes you would add something truly special to their cohort. It does not signal desperation.
Therefore, applicants shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking the top business schools are using scholarship money to combat lower application numbers. Their intention is not to throw money at applicants until they say yes.
MBA Scholarship Trends for SBC Clients
Our client pool received $4.8 million in scholarship dollars last season. About 20-25% of SBC clients receive scholarship packages ranging between $10,000 to full-ride offers valued at $200,000. Also, we have had countless clients who received merit scholarships from 2+ schools upon admit notification.
When we analyze the profiles of our scholarship admit clients, we find that the high quality of the applicant always explains the reason for the scholarship offer.
Some programs have a reputation for generosity with their financial incentives. For example, Kellogg School of Management is often generous with scholarships because it competes with Chicago Booth due to geographic proximity. One recent client received $120,000 from Chicago Booth and a full ride from Kellogg.
Kellogg, UCLA Anderson School of Management, and NYU Stern School of Business have the highest per recipient award value. The bar graph above shows the average award amount per program for our client pool of scholarship recipients for the 2018-2019 year.
MBA Scholarships Don’t Always Lure Admits
As Stacy shared with the business news site Poets & Quants for their recent article on MBA scholarship trends, money—even vast sums— doesn’t always seal the deal. In 2019, we worked with a female applicant admitted to seven of the world’s top MBA programs. She had a 740 GMAT score and a 3.6 GPA, with an undergrad degree in engineering from a liberal arts school on the east coast.
She is caucasian, from the U.S., and working in urban planning, a non-traditional industry for an MBA student. Here’s what each school offered to entice her to attend:
- NYU Stern—full-ride scholarship
- Chicago Booth—$110,000
- Dartmouth Tuck—$100,000
- Kellogg School—$90,000
- Columbia Business School—$90,000
- Duke Fuqua—$80,000
Her MBA application defined her leadership style within a male-dominated workplace. It also showcased her grasp of the strategic trends in the urban planning industry. She has had a lifelong passion for urban planning, and she wrote about how multiple aspects of her life represented a ‘path less traveled.’ As you can surmise, her overall application made her one of the most desirable candidates this year.
But despite the lure of a combined $620,000 in scholarship awards, she ended up turning down all of those offers. The reason? She was also admitted to Harvard Business School—her number-one choice. Even though HBS only offered $20,000 in a need-based award, she chose Harvard because of its strong network, global brand, and academic experience.
Can You Negotiate MBA Scholarships?
Sometimes, applicants receive drastically different scholarship amounts for two or more programs. They may receive a financial award for one school but nothing for another. In this case, you might consider contacting the adcomm to explain your situation.
We don’t recommend naming the competing institution, sharing your offer letter, or making demands. Instead, reach out to the admissions office to reiterate your keen interest in attending their program. Then, ask if it’s possible to be considered for a higher scholarship amount (or any scholarship amount) because you now have another admit offer and financial incentive on the table.
Be prepared for possible disappointment, however. In our experience, clients usually don’t have luck negotiating for significantly more money or a scholarship match. One of our consultants, a former admissions officer at Chicago Booth, says, “My experience at Booth is that if you weren’t offered a scholarship at the time of admission, it was very rarely given after the fact.”
However, if handled professionally, you really have nothing to lose.
On balance, there is still fierce competition for fellowship and scholarship dollars. Applicants need to present a strong pitch for why he or she deserves a coveted spot in the program. That pitch needs to be clear and compelling enough to generate both an admit outcome and scholarship generosity, which is the gold standard that we seek for many of our clients.