Sure you want to get into a good program. But you also think it would be kinda nice to get a scholarship, too.
Well…. we’re a little bit of the DownerSnark on that idea. They’re not gonna pay you to get an MBA.
At least, not most of you.
This may come as a surprise to some who are just starting the process of researching their options. In some countries, and especially in many other fields, higher education is either highly subsidized or it’s totally free.
But the MBA is not like many other advanced degrees: With an MBA, the prime, or perhaps only, beneficiary is YOU.
When you go into a master’s program for almost any other field, there is a requirement to at least produce a thesis. (The MIT LGO joint-degree program also has a track where you write a thesis but that’s an exception in the world of the MBA.)
If you’re trying for a doctoral program, then you’ll be producing original research into some topic that has never been studied before.
In both of these cases, you’re contributing to the field. You’re advancing the science. You’re expanding the body of knowledge available on that subject.
In an MBA, that just doesn’t happen. You’re a consumer of all of that advancement; you’re acquiring knowledge that others have codified or produced.
Plus — in the category of stating-the-obvious — you’re gonna come out and most likely earn a very hefty salary. It is rare for an MBA grad of any good school to get less than $100k in post-MBA salary, and those lower-than-that figures are typically very intentional, either the rare bird who goes into nonprofit (and is hopefully going to be able to take advantage of a loan forgiveness program offered by their school) or a founder of a business who is intentionally taking on a low salary while her firm is in pre-revenue phase.
Yes, bschool is expensive — VERY expensive. But even with the seemingly ever-increasing tuition, it’s still got remarkable ROI. Most grads pay off their loans fairly quickly. It doesn’t take long when you’re raking in the big bucks that the MBA has afforded you. It’s a logical investment.
Understanding the payoffs, and the fact that you’re taking not giving in the big-picture equation of knowledge transfer and how much you’re helping the world by the act of getting this degree, hopefully it’s understandable why there would not be automatic offers of free money to fund your education. Nobody is going to subsidize your interest to line your own pockets. If you want to go to bschool so you can get a high-paying job, then you should be expected to pay for it.
Obviously we’re speaking in broad strokes here; all bschools offer fellowships to a number of students, and there are even full-ride scholarships at many, but it’s rare that anyone get such a bounty. Most students trying for these high-end MBA programs honestly should be happy for an admit and not worry about also getting a bunch of free money added in.
But some schools do tend to fight over certain applicants and a few of you will end up in a happy place indeed. What factors into the award of a fellowship? What can tip the scales and make an adcom want to give you an offer of financial aid along with the admit?
Some schools have deep pockets and so these trends that we’re discussing today may be even more pronounced there — meaning, they might offer a huge chunk of their admits at least a little money, to the tune of $5,000 or so, as an enticement. The amount of an award typically goes up based on how much they really want that student to come. It also goes up if they sense that they may be in a competitive situation with that applicant. Harvard is one of the very few schools that does need-based aid; most others award based on merit.
So what factors into a merit-based award?
The strongest predictor that you might end up with free money at one of the top MBA programs is how well you did in college. If you got nearly straight As for your bachelor’s, or you got at least a 3.7 and you studied a very challenging subject, or you finished in less than four years, or you did a double major, and all of this was at a decent to good university, then you’re setting yourself up nicely to potentially earn a fellowship along with your admit.
If you have a super-high GMAT then sure, that can help as well, particularly if we’re talking about slightly lower-ranked schools. But high GMAT is not the same predictive factor as GPA, both on admits and most especially on offers of financial aid.
And that might rankle you a bit. You might be sitting here thinking, “But dang it, I didn’t know that grades would ever matter again” or “Hey, though, what about how I was captain of my sports team?” or “Shoot, I did all this stuff with my sorority, doesn’t that count?”
Yes, of course, everything counts, and if you have a superlative profile in these other categories, that will attract the attention of the adcoms.
But nothing is more attractive to the adcoms in this sense than a strong academic record. And here are the reasons why:
- If you were a good student in college, then you show that you like school. You know how to study, you don’t complain about the requirements or how hard it is, you just hit the books and make it happen.
- If you were a good student in college, then you have a very strong chance of being a good student in bschool.
Bschool is SCHOOL and that means learning. The admissions team must answer to a broad range of constituents, one that you may not hear much about being the professors. While many top schools use adjuncts who are professionals out in the field, all of them also have actual, you know, ACADEMICS on faculty. Those are the types with PhDs doing research and stuff. They are the ones who are so excited about their field that they’ve dedicated their lives to advancing the body of knowledge. They may or may not enjoy the teaching part (hopefully all of them do but don’t count on it) yet when they’re in the classroom, they want to have students who are actually logged on and being students.
Not people who are just warming a chair and waiting to get out so that the rest of their lives can begin.
One reason that having a high GPA from college or some other evidence of strong academic performance is tied to these offers of free money more than the GMAT is that the GPA shows you’re willing to work hard over time. Having a high GMAT plus a low GPA says unfortunately that you’re a smart cookie but you weren’t willing to apply yourself academically before. Not a great message to be sending to the academics who are thinking of admitting you and possibly offering you some money to come study with them. The super high GMAT can still sway an adcom to offer some free money if it’s the type of school that would benefit from a boost to their stats for their rankings. But high GMAT/low GPA is unfortunately sometimes a headwind.
Conversely, a high GPA is a signal. It’s not the only one, but it’s a reliable one that the schools tend to respond quite positively to. Those with a high GPA show that they care. They often are those who organize study groups. They might even volunteer to mentor students who have never been exposed to these subjects before. They tend to contribute in the classroom. They add to the learning environment.
Don’t believe us? Here’s Stanford’s Admissions Director saying essentially the same thing.
These are the reasons why schools like to see quality academics from your past. They will offer free money to other types of applicants, too, but merit-based fellowship awards tend to go first to those who show a willingness to work hard academically based on the proof they present in their apps.