Negotiating Business School Scholarships – It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

If you were lucky enough to emerge from the Round 1 business school application process with one or more acceptances in hand, congrats! It was competitive year, made even more challenging by a limited ability to visit and network with schools in person.

A subset of you may have even received offers of scholarship money to help offset the very significant cost of attending a full time MBA program. Congratulations!

However, while it is obviously a good problem to have, scholarship offer(s) can make the decision about where to attend business school more complicated than anticipated. Perhaps you were accepted to your top choice program but received a sizeable scholarship offer from a business school you viewed as more of a ‘safety’. Are the incremental benefits of the higher ranked program enough to offset the higher cost to attend?

The decision can be downright anxiety-provoking and it’s an incredibly personal one. However, if you are truly torn and the decision boils down to the cost differential, it doesn’t hurt to ask your dream business school program if they can help.    

Come from a Place of Authenticity

Given that it doesn’t hurt to ask (you’ve been accepted already, after all), you can bet that schools receive quite a few requests for additional scholarship money. If you’re lucky enough to have been accepted to multiple programs, the goal is not to throw requests at the wall to see what sticks, so to speak.

Your approach should be targeted and specific. If you can’t honestly say (not that you will be this explicit in your request, but as a thought exercise) that if School A offered you $X you would attend, think long and hard about whether it makes sense to ask. Schools can usually see through requests that aren’t sincere, making them a waste of your time as well as theirs.

Adhere to Their Process

That said, schools are generally willing to entertain scholarship requests, particularly if you have a compelling alternative from a school they view as a peer / competitor for talent.

As a starting point, do some research or call admissions to determine how and where they would like you to send your request. Some business schools have an online form they ask people to submit. Other schools will have you send an email to a specific inbox. Some may even ask for a copy of your competing scholarship award letter – it is safe to assume they will do this eventually.

How You Ask Matters

Once you know the process, it’s time to frame up your request. It should be concise but also gracious and honest.

In addition to reiterating that you are thankful for the opportunity to attend, a best practice is to restate succinctly why the program in question is best suited to help you achieve your goals. Be sure to do this in a way that is unique to both you and the program at hand – if your ‘why business school X’ argument could apply to any other program or any of your peers, it is not specific enough to be impactful.

Next comes your ‘ask’. Brief context is helpful so that they know your request is sincere. If you have a competing offer, mention it here. Or, if your financial circumstances have changed since you submitted your application, making it more difficult to afford tuition, be upfront about it. The rationale for your request, beyond just wanting to lower the cost of your MBA, goes a long way.

After you share your rationale, politely ask if they can reconsider you for scholarship opportunities. While you may have a ‘number’ in your head that would sway your decision, it’s best to keep your request open ended so as not to sound demanding. Close by thanking them for their time and, once again, for the offer of admission.

Keep in mind that it’s likely they will not be able to offer you additional funding. However, at least you know you’ve laid all of your cards on the table to make the best decision for your personal circumstances. Congrats again on your acceptances and enjoy the MBA journey!

Other articles that may be of interest:

What Matters in Choosing an MBA Program

Top MBA Program Comparison and How to Use It

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