How to Get a Low-Cost or Free MBA

Experts advise MBA applicants to investigate school-specific scholarship and fellowship opportunities.

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How to Get a Low-Cost or Free MBA – Some MBA hopefuls have the opportunity to attend business school without paying a cent for their education.

That’s what happens when applicants receive such generous subsidies for their MBA studies that they have enough to cover the cost of tuition and fees. Funding can come from a variety of sources, including scholarships, fellowships, need-based financial aid or company sponsorships.

Experts say getting full funding is rare, but MBA applicants can improve their odds by doing thorough research on funding options and preparing polished scholarship and fellowship applications.

It’s also important to submit strong admissions materials, since B-schools often distribute merit-based scholarships based on the quality of students’ essays, interviews, resumes, grades and test scores.

How to Get a Low-Cost or Free MBA

“Full-tuition scholarships are typically awarded to candidates who are strong across the board,” Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit that offers MBA fellowships for women, wrote in an email. “A high GMAT or GRE score is important in scholarship consideration, but it usually isn’t enough to land a full ride.

Your application should tell your story, reflect on your career and life experiences to date, and show how you can contribute to your school during your MBA and to the broader business world once you graduate.”

Sangster suggests that applicants demonstrate “authenticity, likability and a record of success” to cultivate advocates on the admissions team.

Apply to Scholarship-Friendly Programs

Eli David, co-founder of Ivy MBA Consulting, says business schools provide the majority of MBA scholarships and fellowships. So although there are alternative funding sources, schools are the first place that MBA applicants should look to get financial help.

Applicants should look for business schools that give scholarships to a high proportion of students, experts say. Some examples are Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and Columbia Business School, says David White, a founding partner with admissions consulting firm Menlo Coaching.

Schools that are members of the The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a nonprofit organization that grants full-tuition MBA fellowships, also “have a history of such generosity,” says Peter J. Aranda III, the organization’s executive director and CEO.

Understand What B-Schools Are Looking For

In addition to proven academic success, graduate admissions officers look for strong communication skills and evidence of ambition, John Enyart, senior consultant at New York-based Solomon Admissions, wrote in an email.

“Successful candidates show off their outward community, social and global focus,” says Enyart, who previously spent nine years working in graduate and MBA admissions. “Persuasive humility, along with proof of job success, networking and engagement are indicators of leadership.”

White says the MBA applicants who are most likely to receive large scholarships are the ones business schools are most eager to attract.

“MBA programs use scholarships to give their preferred applicants an extra incentive to enroll, so the applicants most likely to win a generous award are ones who schools expect to receive multiple offers – such as applicants with 760-plus GMAT scores or ones from underrepresented categories,” he wrote in an email. “Having said that, some applicants receive large awards based on their personal story, too.”

White recalled an applicant “who told a courageous #MeToo story of overcoming sexual harassment at work (and) received $420,000 in total scholarship offers despite a low GPA and below average test scores.”

Focus on Test Prep

Experts say high test scores can lead to scholarship or fellowship offers, so strong performance on the GRE or GMAT is essential. Enyart recommends potential MBA applicants complete a test prep program about six to eight weeks before testing.

“Standardized testing is a technology that can be studied and mastered,” he says. “Why leave money on the table?”

Aspiring MBAs who are still in college should take their business school entrance exams before or shortly after graduating to maximize their scores, Aranda says. That is when your math skills will typically be sharpest, and exam results are valid for five years.

Although some schools no longer require either test as part of their admissions criteria, experts say taking the test anyway can help your scholarship potential.

Inquire About MBA Funding for Specific Interest Groups

Experts note that many MBA scholarships and fellowships are reserved for women and other underrepresented groups, or for those who work in a specific industry.

Some of these financial awards are designed for business school applicants who excel both as students in the classroom and in other ways. For example, the fellowships that The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management awards are given to MBA applicants with both strong academic credentials and “a proven record of promoting inclusion in school, in their jobs or in their personal lives,” according to the consortium’s website.

Prospective applicants should research what services a school offers, starting with offices dedicated to serving first-generation and low-income students, Enyart says, adding that some schools may also offer national fraternity-based grants.

“Graduate students looking for more support should stop by the university’s employment office for part-time jobs,” he says. “These are ‘real’ jobs that may offer staff scholarships and stipends in addition to compensation.”

Polish Your Essays

The essay is a “critical part of graduate candidate assessment,” Enyart says.

“It can make you or break you,” he adds. A good story or compelling imagery “lets the candidate grab the attention of a blurry-eyed admissions reader.”

Aranda, who received a full-tuition MBA fellowship in the 1980s through the Consortium fellowship program, says crafting thoughtful personal essays is one way applicants can boost their odds of winning a full scholarship.

He says the essay prompts in MBA scholarship applications often appear easy to answer, but those who write rushed responses to these questions may produce sloppy essays.

Enyart suggests using “simple, direct language” pointing to a “precise idea.”

See Whether Your Employer Offers Tuition Benefits
Some employers will provide financial assistance to prospective applicants or graduates to incentivize them to pursue an MBA. One method is a part-time corporate sponsorship, Enyart says, where employers pay for some or all of the tuition to allow full-time employees to take evening classes.

Another way is through signing bonuses, where employers offer to pay off some or all of a potential employee’s MBA tuition or loan debt as a way to entice them to sign with their company, he says.

Submit a Well-Crafted MBA Application

Sean O’Neill, a 2018 graduate of Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, suspects one reason he received a full-ride scholarship was that he customized his MBA application for the school.

“Babson is, above all else, a school that prides itself on entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial mindset,” O’Neill, the founder of Toast! Supplements Inc., a company that sells nutritional supplements, wrote in an email. “So when it came to writing my essays and interviewing with their admissions team, I built my entire storyline around that theme. I researched how they viewed entrepreneurship and what they cared about, and spoke to those themes.”

Shari Hubert, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which offers a full-tuition merit-based scholarship to outstanding MBA candidates, says a prospective student who hopes to win a scholarship should be sure to submit a solid application.

“One way students can differentiate themselves is in the leadership and involvement area of the application,” Hubert wrote in an email. “Help us understand how you will make an impact inside and outside the classroom based on experiences in your professional career or within your community.”

Submit Your Application Early

“At the end of the day, it’s most important to make sure your overall application is as strong as possible,” Hubert says. “However, it can also help to apply as early as possible if you can do so without sacrificing the quality of your application.”

Duke has scholarship funding available throughout the MBA admissions cycle, Hubert says, but funding may be limited after the second round, depending on the competitiveness of the admissions pool.

Prepare for Your Admissions Interviews

An admissions interview “can have a powerful impact on the admissions decision and potential merit awards,” Enyart says. Many scholarships require one or more interviews.

“Since the business school admissions offices already have the candidate’s academic, work and other personal statements and references, do not waste this opportunity to repeat anything already submitted,” Enyart says. “Add to your profile with new experiences and demonstrate interest with serious research about departments and faculty strengths.”

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