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Do Scholarships Make MBAs More Inclusive?

A tool to drive inclusivity or just a way for business schools to attract the best students? Business schools tell us what they’re trying to achieve by offering MBA scholarships

Thu May 2 2019

One thing that everyone knows about graduate management education is that it’s expensive. The average cost of a two-year MBA program is about $60,000, with top-ranking programs exceeding $100,000.

The rewards of these programs can be huge—MBA grads from Stanford Graduate School of Business, the top-ranked program in the world, reported a 114% increase in their salaries post-graduation last year.

However, even for candidates who aren’t looking at the very top programs, shelling out for that initial cost is a high barrier to entry that excludes a lot of people.

According to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), business school candidates from underrepresented backgrounds were more likely than their better-represented peers to plan to use grants, fellowships, and scholarships to finance their business school journey.

But do scholarships really make MBAs more inclusive?

Scholarships can inject some much-needed diversity into MBA cohorts by allowing these candidates to benefit. And scholarships can help MBA students pursue careers with impact, that aren’t primarily profit-driven.

On the other hand, scholarships could merely be a way for schools to sway the most promising talent towards their program. 

“Diversity has always been a value” 


According to Vincenzo Esposito Vinzi, the dean and president of ESSEC Business School in France, diversity is the main thing on administrators’ minds when they are awarding scholarships.

From an academic perspective, a good MBA cohort will have at least enough diversity in the room to challenge its students’ assumptions about business, and by offering a range of diversity-based scholarships, schools can curate their cohorts to ensure a productive learning environment.

At ESSEC, scholarships are available for regional diversity, targeting students in particular areas of the world including Africa, Asia, and South America.

From a moral and social perspective, too, diversity is key. ESSEC was the first business school in Europe to open its classrooms to women, and Vincenzo says that roughly 11% of the budget set aside for scholarships goes towards social diversity and equal opportunities.

However, particularly when it comes to lowering the cost threshold for lower-income professionals to seek out a top MBA, many scholarships offered by business schools don’t quite eliminate the barriers to entry.

Read: MBA Scholarships: The True Value Of Financial Aid At Business School


“We allow people to make an informed financial decision”

Full-ride scholarships are rare, and when they are awarded, the point at which this happens often means that lower-income applicants may still be discouraged.

At Cambridge Judge Business School, 22 scholarships are offered, totalling £450,000 (nearly $588,000), with individual awards of up to £25,000 ($33,600)—almost half the full-time MBA tuition fees.


“We actually now award our scholarships at the point of offer, before the person has committed to the program,” explains Amy Philpot, the head of MBA recruitment and admissions at Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Previously, the process was that they were awarded at a later stage when people had already confirmed their place—we’re now allowing people to make an informed financial decision about whether they can afford the MBA.”

So, could greater scholarship provisions correlate to a more diverse and global pool of applicants? Amy believes that it depends.

“It’s just one way of ensuring that we have the diverse class that is important for us,” she cautions, “because by the time people are applying for scholarships, they’ve already decided to apply for the program and progressed to the interview stage—there’s a lot more to be done earlier in the pipeline than that.”

Combining scholarships with flexible learning

Opening more of the world to the benefits of graduate management education is no easy task. As Amy notes, for a full-time MBA at a school like Judge, the sample of candidates who reach the consideration stage for scholarships is already narrow.

While scholarships may be part of the solution to making business school truly accessible to all, the traditional MBA format is constricting—the solution, instead, could lie in a combination of scholarships and flexible knowledge delivery.

Edinburgh Business School (EBS) at Heriot-Watt University has been delivering online MBA degrees since the 1990s and boasts test centers for their MBA all over the world.

The school’s dean, Heather McGregor, believes that this long-standing global infrastructure gives them a superior level of accessibility as an institution, which in turn gives them more power to bring quality management teaching to emerging economies.

By combining this institutional accessibility with scholarship provision, Heather believes that they can really make a difference to the MBA market, and furthermore, that they have a duty to do so.

“If you are based in Namibia or Tanzania, you can access our MBA much more cheaply than you can in the UK, and that’s deliberate,” she says.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t want you to be a student if you’re based in the UK, of course not, but I also appreciate that for people in emerging economies it is a very expensive investment, and that’s where we need to direct our scholarship money.”

Scholarships are not the be-all and end-all for MBA inclusivity; they must be combined with other initiatives to make a meaningful impact—even if those initiatives mean breaking down the traditional structure of the MBA entirely.

Student Reviews

ESSEC Business School




On Campus

The best intercultural university

There are more than 50 nationality in the grade, so there are opportunities to interact with people from all around the world. In terms of academics, the BBA course offers diverse courses for the 1st




On Campus

Creativity, adaptability and entrepreneurship

The Master in Management program at the ESSEC Business School allows the students to choose their courses accordingly to their preferences and their professional targets. We can also go through international exchange and take part in internships with companies that are also partners with the school. The school is also next to the city of Paris.




On Campus

Top business school in France

Doing PhD in essec took some time, to be precise about five years. But the experience was very good and cost effective too. There are opportunities for the student for teaching assistantship and that helps both financially and in career. In the final year I could manage to teach marketing to M1 students and this helped shape my career




On Campus

Great college

The program is well suited for early professionals with an engineering degree preferably or a degree in economics. I would suggest taking the ceasure irrespective of the experience level as it helps you take your time to adjust to the job market.





Good school in France

I am currently enrolled in M2 in Essec business school. I am specialising in marketing management. The Grande Ecole programme is valued in France and my school ranks very high up. There are a lot of opportunities for internships and CDD.




The program curriculum

BBA program. The program is really practical and useful, provide us many international opportunities. Like internship and humanitarian experience, and the flexibility is also really cool, we can choose different campus and tracks as we want.




International Course

This school is very international and business oriented. Highly recognized by the companies The campus has been renovated and is very functional and modern from now on. Excellent atmosphere. Reputation of essec is a plus




Friends, Career opportunities.

The program I did gave me the opportunity to start in Singapore. I got the chance to know all the students that started there and we bonded and made some friends for life. The career opportunities that ESSEC also gave me were unbelievable.




Practical and useful

I think the best thing about Essec is that it's not focusing on academics rather it emphasizes on future job mindset and professional experiences.. The classes are interesting and we have plenty of workshops attributing to different sectors.. The campus is very nice with a good cafe and wonderful library. The only problem is the location of the campus. It's quite far from Paris.




On Campus

Amazing experience! Must try

I think its a very amazing school with great and experienced faculty. Also the alumni network is very solid and useful. The school has a great balance of studies and work experience which is really essential for a student.