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5 Steps To Securing Your Merit-Based MBA Scholarship

Maximizing merit-based financial aid is a crucial phase of any MBA admissions campaign

By Jessica Burlingame, MBA Columbia Business School, Managing Consultant for MBAMoney™ at The MBA Exchange

The significant return on investment from an MBA education continues to motivate thousands of applicants to pursue admission. By using merit-based aid to significantly reduce the amount of money invested, the return becomes even higher. It certainly doesn’t take an MBA degree to do that math!

Grants, fellowships, and scholarships that do not require repayment or financial disclosure have become more broadly available and, in some cases, even expected by candidates. This expansion in merit-based aid is most likely due to increased competition between schools seeking to enroll the most desirable applicants.

While financial award amounts vary widely across individuals and programs, a growing number of our clients have received offers ranging from $5K annually up to full tuition from the top-15 ranked schools.

Here’s five steps to securing your merit-based MBA scholarship:

1. Apply Early

Maximizing one’s chances of receiving merit-based aid is best done before applying for admission. This effort starts by optimizing your overall professional, academic, and personal profile to make the candidacy most attractive.

Preparing a compelling application, having a stellar interview, and making a positive impression on adcoms, students, and alumni is the best way to build a value proposition for schools that will encourage them to offer merit-based aid.

2. Note the competition

Competition among applicants for merit-based aid can be even fiercer, and less predictable, than competition for admission. Just as top programs don’t admit the majority of their applicants, they don’t offer merit aid to a majority of their admits.

Choosing which candidates will get aid is influenced by a range of factors related to a school’s vision of its ideal incoming class profile. Factors commonly cited in allocating merit-based aid include attracting students from traditionally underrepresented groups and/or who offer academic, personal and/or professional backgrounds prioritized by the schools.

And the selection criteria can shift each day as commitments from admits trickle in and further define the class. If there is an algorithm used to determine individual awards, it remains top secret as schools provide no feedback to those who receive or do not receive aid.

3. Be Patient

While most schools extend offers of merit-based financial aid at the time of admission, some delay their offers until later in the admissions season, when they have a better sense of the yield from admits. Schools hope that some admits will commit before the official deadline, thus precluding the need to offer them merit-based aid. This cat-and-mouse game can create discomfort, if not outright chaos, for applicants—especially those with multiple offers of admission—who are trying to finalize their MBA plans.

4. Tailor your application

The process by which an admit can appeal an initial merit-based aid offer is inconsistent at best. Some schools may reconsider and increase their initial aid offers in response to requests from admits. Some simply discuss each case at a meeting of their admissions and financial aid committee.

Other schools have a structured appeal process that requires admits to submit an additional essay and/or other supporting materials. Some schools even require admits to submit a nonrefundable deposit before a merit-based aid decision is finalized. Familiarity with the merit-based aid policies of each school is essential.

5. Be genuine

Students who are successful in getting additional merit-based aid are those who manage their post-admissions communications thoughtfully, carefully, and respectfully. They convey genuine enthusiasm around the offer of admission, and gratitude for additional time and consideration invested by the school in considering a revised aid offer. An especially delicate topic for candidates is whether and how to convey that another school has extended a more generous amount of merit aid. The last thing any admit wants to do is give adcoms a reason to reconsider the initial offer of aid or, worst case, the offer of admission.

These observations and trends weigh heavily on the minds of MBA applicants. Given the significant risks and rewards surrounding merit-based financial aid, The MBA Exchange has recently launched a new consulting service named MBAMoney™. Admissions and financial aid experts provide admits with confirmation of their potential for receiving aid, and then guide them on how to best approach and negotiate with each school to maximize the amount awarded.

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