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How to Negotiate MBA Scholarships?

Despite the fact that an MBA at a top business school like Stanford Graduate School of Business costs as much as a house in many countries, many people pay full price without thinking twice.

Getting into a top program is a huge accomplishment, but many applicants are so excited about getting in and not having to think anymore about their applications that they fail to consider important financial matters, leaving thousands of dollars on the table. 

Not discussing or negotiating better scholarship offers is a huge mistake. However, successfully doing so is a delicate art that must be approached with a clear strategy and winning technique.  Since this can be a difficult and uncomfortable process for many applicants, we’ve compiled a list of our best tips and tricks that can potentially double their scholarship offers from elite MBA programs. 

When will the school tell me if I got a scholarship?

First of all, it is important to understand at what point in the process you will receive notice of your scholarship. 

Most schools will give you information about any scholarships you received when they email you your official acceptance letter. If they don’t mention any scholarships in the letter,it does not mean that you were not awarded any scholarship money.

INSEAD, for example, offers two types of scholarships, one directly from the school (if you receive this one, you’ll be notified when you’re offered admission) and one you must apply separately for (the winners of these scholarships are notified several weeks later). 

As such, make sure you research the school’s scholarship process. If they simply haven’t released scholarship awards yet, the best policy is to sit tight and wait for an update. 

What can I do if I’m not happy with my scholarship?

Though receiving a scholarship is always an honor, if you’re relying on scholarships to help make your dream of attending a top business school a possibility, a minimal scholarship can come as a disappointment. If you were hoping for a scholarship and didn’t receive one, it can even put a damper on the great news that you’ve landed a spot at your target MBA program. 

The good news is that everything is negotiable and you have nothing to lose!

To start off the process, we suggest sending a polite email to the school. The letter should reinforce your interest in the program, thank them for any scholarship offer they did make you, and ask if you can be reconsidered for any scholarships, given the fact that you are very interested in their program.

While you wait for your answer, consider any elements of your profile you think are particularly relevant in convincing them to increase your offer. One of the biggest factors is scholarship offers from other programs, which we’ve covered in depth below. Other factors include a higher GMAT score, a promotion or other improvement to your professional profile, or even value you think you can contribute to the community that wasn’t fully covered in your application. 

If you have updated or extenuating financial circumstances, this can also be very important to mention. 

  1. Use leverage

As with all types of negotiations, your final result is likely to be more favorable if you have leverage you can employ during the negotiation process. Leverage, however, must be relevant to the negotiation. In the case of MBA scholarships, one of the greatest forms of leverage is offers from other schools. 

For example, if School A originally gave you $10K, you can then go to School B and ask if they can match or improve upon the offer you received. That’s because in the elite MBA world, schools want to attract and retain top talents who share their values. As such, though many schools do offer comprehensive financial aid options – Stanford made big waves this year in rolling out an impressively generous financial aid policy – scholarships are ultimately a great tool for programs to lure the candidates they want most to their programs. 

After all, if you could choose between attending your top choice school full price or your second choice school for free, it would be challenging to leave so much free money on the table. 

  1. Best practices

When leveraging offers from other programs, it’s important to keep a few best practices in mind. 

First, you will be much more successful if you negotiate using a scholarship offer from a peer school. For example, if you were admitted at Harvard Business School (consistently ranked one of the best business schools in the world) without a scholarship and were admitted at a relatively low ranked school (perhaps ranked #20 or #30) with a full scholarship. In this case, Harvard is unlikely to match the offer, as the school you are leveraging is not a direct competitor. 

If the tables were turned, however, and Harvard offered you a scholarship while a lower-ranked school did not, you would likely have more success in increasing your scholarship amount at the lower-ranked institution.

Finally, if schools are similarly ranked and are known to heavily compete over similar candidates (think London Business School and IESE, Harvard and Stanford, etc.), you can also successfully negotiate a better offer. 

When negotiating with the schools, they may ask you to provide documentation that proves another program offered you a scholarship. Though you certainly don’t have to provide this documentation, showing that you did indeed receive an offer will greatly help your case! 

After you’ve developed your negotiation strategy, it’s time to get in touch with the school. By masterfully managing your communication (including deciding what to say, how to say it, and when to say it), you’ll greatly increase your chances of obtaining more scholarship money. 

  1. Give them a reason to reconsider

When asking for something, a good place to start is to consider the question: “Why should they give me what I want?” 

Though you may feel you deserve a scholarship (or larger scholarship), the school did not initially agree with you. Changing their mind requires showing them why they should reconsider their decision. By giving them a reason to rethink their offer, you’re much more likely to reach your goal of increasing your scholarship amount. 

As such, try to devise better reasons for wanting a scholarship (or bigger scholarship) than “MBAs are expensive.” By showing how you have improved your profile, have added value to the community, or have new financial issues that increase your need, you’re well on your way to developing a convincing argument! 

  1. Best practices for contact

When interacting with the schools, it’s important to employ the optimal communication style to ensure you reach your goal of increasing your MBA scholarship. These best practices may seem simple, but following them diligently is the key to success. 

  1. Be sincere

Though you may think a highly-convoluted argument will push you one step closer to getting what you want, in reality, sincerity is the best approach for all communication with the school. Instead of bragging about your achievements, respectfully demonstrating what you feel you can contribute and politely asking the school to reconsider (while highlighting what an honor a scholarship would be for you) is much more likely to succeed. 

  1. Don’t be rude or demanding

This should seem obvious, but remember, you are trying to get them to help you, so making threats or demands is not likely to work. At the end of the day, they do not have to offer you anything, so make sure you remain polite throughout the entire process. 

  1. Keep it short and sweet

If you do end up negotiating with the school, keep your communication focused and concise. A 10-page essay on why you think you should receive additional scholarship money will likely get thrown out before your counterpart even reads the first word. By constructing a simple yet powerful argument, you’re much more likely to cut through the noise and connect with your counterpart. 

  1. Make sure you approach the right person

The admissions department at any business school is often responsible only for admissions. This means they are not always involved in the scholarship process. When you work to negotiate a scholarship, it’s important to negotiate with the right people. These people are most often in the financial aid department. If you are not sure who this is, call or email the school and ask if they can put you in touch with the financial aid officer in charge of your application.

  1. Follow up

No one likes being called 1,000 times, however, it’s important to follow up on your request to have your MBA scholarship reconsidered. 

Though you don’t want to call hundreds of times or send daily emails, checking in with the school periodically (especially if you have a new development to your profile that influences your scholarship decision) ensures you’re able to get what you want. 

Remember, you’ll never know what your options are unless you ask. As long as you are polite and professional, you have nothing to lose, so follow up!

Finally, know that it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your top choice school you have money on the table somewhere else.

Read More:

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For over 15+ years as an Entrepreneur, and India’s Top Educationist, Jatin has led a range of initiatives in the Education Industry. In this role, he has created many successful educational services and products geared towards generating success for professionals aspiring to join IVY League and global Top Tier Universities for MBA Programs, Masters Programs, and undergraduate courses. He is the Founder and CEO of PythaGURUS Education, and has been recognized as a thought leader in the Higher education sector. Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Times of India, India Today, Business Today, Tribune, and many other national newspapers have recognized his work, and have given him numerous opportunities to be a regular columnist. He has also served as a panelist for NDTV, and other national news channels.

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