Though attending business school comes at a cost, few students pay tuition fees in full. Instead, business schools offer a variety of scholarships – including needs-based, merit-based, and diversity scholarships – to ease the financial burden of an MBA or business master’s degree.
Negotiating scholarships can be pretty daunting. As long as you come across as humble and considerate, there’s no harm in negotiating for scholarships. The best strategy to negotiate scholarships is to get competing business school offers.
How To Negotiate MBA Scholarship
It’s a fortunate dilemma to have, but one that ties many of our clients in knots around this time of year. The scenario typically goes like this: You’ve been offered a good scholarship at one school – but not your dream school, where you have also been accepted. What do you do Do you take the money, or can you use this offer to leverage other schools and programs for financial assistance?
For students, business school is a huge investment, so when you receive a scholarship – even when it’s not from your first-choice school – it’s something to take seriously and consider carefully before making such an important personal decision.
At the same time, know that it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your top-choice school you have money on the table somewhere else. While this doesn’t guarantee a counteroffer, there are several things you can do to optimize your chances of successful negotiations. Let’s look at how to negotiate MBA scholarship opportunities below.
Still, entering a business school scholarship negotiation is a delicate task that needs to be approached with precision and care.
Follow these ten guidelines from business school experts to increase your success at the negotiation table.
1. Prepare and Set Goals
Paul Fisher is director of the Oxford Program on Negotiation (OPN), offered by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, which helps senior executives boost their negotiation skills.
He says preparation is the number one factor that ensures negotiation success. “Do your homework and establish the issues you want to negotiate, prioritizing what is most important to you, what you need, and what you would like,” he says.
As well as goal setting before you speak to the school, you should find out more about “the other side” before you craft your pitch, adds MBA admissions consultant Barbara Coward.
Ask: What is the context for the school’s scholarship budget? Has it increased or decreased? Is there a particular focus on scholarships this year? Prepare these questions before your business school scholarship negotiation.
2. Apply to “Safe” Schools
Apply to colleges where your application and test scores will be above average and where you will stand out from the masses to increase your chances of receiving scholarship offers. Then use those scholarship offers to help you negotiate higher offers with other schools.
3. Get in Touch with the Admissions Office
At most schools, the Admissions Office awards merit scholarships to help recruit top talent. The Financial Aid Office awards all need-based financial aid. So make sure to get in contact with the appropriate office. If you get a merit scholarship but also have need-based aid, you can then loop both offices into the negotiation process.
4. Establish a Negotiation Process
In a negotiation, you naturally may feel vulnerable. Keeping control over – and establishing – your negotiation process beforehand is a surefire way of boosting your confidence.
“How will we negotiate? In what sequence? Over what time period? In what language? If virtually, over what platform?” – these are the questions Paul suggests asking yourself before your scholarship negotiation.
5. Don’t Call it “Negotiation”
Even though requesting additional scholarship assistance is a negotiation, universities often don’t like to use that word. Shannon Vasconcelos, Director of College Finance, College Coach recommends to instead start your negotiation by asking, “Are there any additional scholarships I can apply for to make my attendance more feasible?”.
6. Leverage Multiple Offers
“There’s no harm in politely asking financial aid offices to match aid [you] may have received from a different program, especially if it’s factoring into your decision,” says Nikhil Agarwal, Harvard MBA alum and Chris’ co-founder at Juno.
Using existing scholarship offers can be a good way to negotiate your scholarship, adding legitimacy to your request. However, Barbara notes, this method should be approached with care:
“What candidates don’t realize is that many of the admissions officers at schools know each other from conferences and recruitment fairs. If you don’t present the information to them accurately, such as inflating the amount one school has offered you, it will come back to bite you.”
7. Justify your Needs
Scott Edinburgh, MBA admissions consultant and founder of Personal MBA Coach, says being honest about your financial situation and explaining why you’re the perfect candidate for the school is crucial when negotiating your scholarship offer. From there, you can build a case for yourself.
Your negotiation strategy should also vary depending on whether you’re negotiating for a better needs-based or merit-based scholarship
“For the former, you’ll want to provide evidence of greater need to justify a bigger package,” says Barbara. “For the latter, you’ll want to communicate the additional value that you bring to the cohort.”
8. Demonstrate Interest
Make sure that the school knows that you are interested in them by taking actions such as: taking advantage of optional interviews, visiting campus, and opening all emails they send you. Schools can be more likely to negotiate with you if they feel confident that the additional funding you request will land your enrollment.
9. Be Self-aware
In successful negotiations, Paul notes, negotiators try to put themselves in the other side’s shoes and identify that side’s underlying interests; their basic needs, wants, and motivations.
Showing empathy and being respectful when negotiating your scholarship is therefore key – you don’t want to come across as demanding or threatening.
10. Embrace the Win-Win Negotiation
Don’t view a negotiation like a competitive sport, where there is “one winner and one loser,” says Scott.
“If you take that approach,” Scott explains, “you will not only leave a lot of value on the table but destroy any future relationships too.”
Remember: your choice of business school will have a lasting impact on your career, and a level of self-awareness going into a scholarship negotiation will help you come across in a positive light.
Double and triple-check that your choice is the right school for you, and negotiate your scholarship offer at a level which helps you, but doesn’t jeopardize your plans.
Read more of our best advice for scholarships, financial aid, and how to pay for business school.
How To Get an MBA Scholarship?
Different schools have different processes for awarding scholarships, fellowships or financial aid to their MBA candidates. Some offer merit-based scholarships that any applicant is automatically eligible for when they submit an MBA application. For these, you don’t need to write separate essays to convince the AdCom to award you a scholarship. This is how Sejal scored her full scholarship to NYU Stern.
Then there are additional merit-based, external scholarships and fellowships that you need to apply for separately by submitting scholarship essays. Another former client meticulously applied for every scholarship and grant she was eligible for at Wharton and as a result, received scholarships worth $160,000 over two years in total. Now, that’s an incredible result.
Other schools including Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB offer certain need-based scholarships to assist candidates coming from weaker financial backgrounds.
Finally, as you navigate how to negotiate MBA scholarship options in your top schools, it’s important to make your evaluations with an open mind. Whether you go with the scholarship opportunity or not, you want to be confident your chosen school is the right fit from an academic, career and cultural standpoint. The notion of fit really can’t be overstated – keep the long view in mind and remember the ROI of business school implies that you stand to increase your earning power substantially.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) On How To Negotiate MBA Scholarship
When Should I Start Negotiating For An MBA Scholarship?
The ideal time to start negotiating for an MBA scholarship is after you have received offers from multiple schools. This allows you to compare financial aid packages and determine your leverage. It is important to note that not all schools are open to negotiating scholarships, so it is advisable to check with the admissions committee of each school to gauge their willingness to negotiate before reaching out.
What Are Some Strong Arguments To Use When Negotiating An MBA Scholarship?
When negotiating an MBA scholarship, it is crucial to present compelling arguments that demonstrate your value to the school. Some strong arguments to consider include competing offers, outstanding academic and professional achievements, unique contributions to the school, and financial need.
How Should I Approach The Negotiation Process With The School?
When approaching the negotiation process, it is essential to maintain a professional and respectful demeanor. Avoid making ultimatums or threats, as this could damage your relationship with the school and jeopardize your chances of receiving a scholarship. Instead, express gratitude for the initial offer and politely inquire about the possibility of reconsidering the financial aid package.