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How to get a life-changing MBA scholarship

Updated: Feb 1

Let’s examine the costs of an MBA. Tuition fees at an M7 USA MBA start at around $80,000 per year, for two years. Then there’s rent, travel and living costs to think about. Oh, and no salary for a couple of years. Candidates from emerging economies, low-income families or those without any financial support can find this really daunting. Unless you have a trust fund or a generous grandma, you’ll need a plan to fund your MBA.

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek survey, nearly 50% of Top MBA graduates from the class of 2018 owe six-figures in student loans.

One way candidates can keep their loans to a minimum is to apply for scholarships and fellowships. If you would like to apply for a scholarship to fund your MBA, read on for some ‘scholarly’ advice.

Do top MBA schools give scholarships?

Yes, they do. Most top schools offer multiple scholarships, fellowships and tuition fee reductions. They want to support promising candidates who may not be able to afford an MBA degree but bring diversity and breadth to the cohort.

“At HBS, we consider getting your MBA a shared investment in your future. Our students meet the annual cost of our MBA program through scholarships, savings, and student loans.”

Former SWC client Sejal was admitted to NYU Stern's MBA program with a $170,000 scholarship. Another former client was admitted to Wharton with $160,000 in scholarships. Just two of the many applicants we’ve worked with who have received successful admits to M7 or T15 business schools with scholarships.

What GMAT score will get you a scholarship?

There’s no particular GMAT score that guarantees a scholarship, but having a high GMAT certainly helps your chances.

Just like MBA applications, scholarship applications are evaluated holistically. So, the key factors that the Scholarship Evaluation Committee observes while deciding to offer you a scholarship are:

  • Professional experience: The AdCom will look at the number of years, seniority level, quantifiable impact, industry and business function you’ve been a part of.

  • Academic background: A common factor we’ve observed about scholarship applicants is they tend to have GPAs above the class average. For top schools, that’s around 3.6, according to their class profile reports.

  • Extracurricular engagements: What you’ve done outside of work is a big differentiator. Solid extracurriculars you’ve actively pursued over the years, volunteer work or impactful projects will make you stand out from the crowd, especially if this was at “big brand” charities, like UNICEF or the Red Cross. These are the candidates schools want, and they’ll use scholarship funds to attract them.

  • Post-MBA goals: The school wants candidates who are ambitious and yet realistic. They want to see that you have a professional purpose and a clear understanding of what you need from the school to reach your immediate and long term goals. Getting your post-MBA goals right is important for getting a scholarship.

  • Fit with the school: Business schools want to bring in candidates who are invested in their school, have reached out to current students and alumni, and have been demonstrably active at networking events. That applies for scholarships too.

  • Demographics: Business schools work hard to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their MBA class. When offering scholarships, they assess the candidate’s background to see if they can bring diverse perspectives to the class.

Can I get a 100% MBA scholarship?

The short answer is yes. We’ve worked with several candidates who have received full scholarships to top schools including NYU Stern and Rotman. They all had outstanding profiles that ticked all the boxes: high GMAT, above-average GPA, impressive extracurriculars and a crystal-clear post-MBA goal.

Basically, you will need to pull all the stops out to showcase your “wow” factor to get a full scholarship from your target business school.

How to get an MBA scholarship?

Different schools have different processes for awarding scholarships, fellowships or financial aid to their MBA candidates. Some offer merit-based scholarships that any applicant is automatically eligible for when they submit an MBA application. For these, you don’t need to write separate essays to convince the AdCom to award you a scholarship. This is how Sejal scored her full scholarship to NYU Stern.

Then there are additional merit-based, external scholarships and fellowships that you need to apply for separately by submitting scholarship essays. Another former client meticulously applied for every scholarship and grant she was eligible for at Wharton, and as a result received scholarships worth $160,000 over two years in total. Now, that’s an incredible result.

Other schools including Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB offer certain need-based scholarships to assist candidates coming from weaker financial backgrounds.

Some well-known scholarships you should check out include The Consortium, Forte, National Black MBA Association and The National Society of Hispanic MBAs scholarships. I’m sure there are more. DYOR.

How to write a scholarship essay

First, use your scholarship essay to add an extra dimension to your profile. For example, if you focused your application essays on the impact you’ve created in your work, use your scholarship essay to discuss an experience during undergrad or outside of work during your extracurriculars.

Second, read through the scholarship criteria and identify the traits that the scholarship is looking for. Pick your stories that demonstrate these traits. For example, for a women’s leadership scholarship, tell a story that aligns with this mission.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. For scholarship essays, even more so than application essays, you can open up about difficult or traumatic experiences from your past. Use the STAR framework to tell a clear, well-structured story that demonstrates vulnerability while discussing the impact this situation had on you.

How to negotiate MBA scholarships

Negotiating scholarships can be pretty daunting. As long as you come across as humble and considerate, there’s no harm to negotiating for scholarships. The best strategy to negotiate scholarships is to get competing business school offers.

If you get admits to schools that are similarly ranked, you can use these competing offers as leverage to ask for scholarships from both schools.

Here’s an example of a scholarship negotiation letter used by a previous client to leverage scholarship offers worth $60,000 from an M7 business school.

Dear (name of admissions officer),

I want to express how thrilled I was to be admitted to (school name) full-time MBA program for the class of 2024.

(School name) is my top choice MBA program - the school fits my lifelong career goals of building sustainable and affordable residential property in sub-saharan Africa, and getting an admission offer is a dream come true for me.

Considering my finances, I am going to struggle to afford the full tuition fee. I was offered a scholarship from another top MBA program and was wondering if (school name) would be able to match it to reduce the amount I will need to borrow? I am happy to provide any evidence, if it helps.

Thank you so much again, I’m so excited about the prospect of coming to (school name)!

Yours sincerely,

(Applicant name)

In 2021, our clients were awarded $434,000 of scholarship funding. Do you need help maximizing your chances of getting a scholarship, or negotiating existing scholarship offers? Book a chat with us now.

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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