How to Maximize the Amount of Financial Aid You Receive

How to Maximize the Amount of Financial Aid You Receive main image

Grants, fellowships and scholarships make up 30 percent of the average financial package of a prospective MBA, according to data from entry test provider the Graduate Management Admission Council, compared to loans which account for just 24 percent.


For many would-be MBAs, securing financial aid — usually awarded on merit or need — is the principle reason for choosing one business school over another. In fact, availability of financial aid is the most important consideration when selecting a school, according to a survey of 3,850 MBA applicants by QS.

“A scholarship from an MBA program is a way of enticing a valuable candidate to accept their program,” says Esther Magna, senior MBA consultant at admissions firm Stacy Blackman Consulting. “A scholarship offer conveys that the candidate has a specific and unique value to offer the incoming student class.”

Maximizing the amount of financial aid you receive requires extreme tact, she says.

Play offers against each other

One of her clients, who declined to be named, received two admissions offers from highly-ranked MBA programs. He was able to increase the offer of financial aid simply by asking one school to match the other’s proposal, while affirming interest and excitement in the course. “This is one of those rare situations in life where — if handled professionally — you really have nothing to lose,” Magna says.

But she warns prospective candidates that they should not name the competing business school, share the offer letter or make demands. “Rather, contact the admissions committee and explain the difficult decision,” she says.

Start your application pitch early

Magna adds that timing is important in securing a higher scholarship offer. Fierce competition for fellowship dollars means it is important to prepare your pitch early.

“Diligence and planning for a quality application are directly correlated with scholarship potential,” she says. “Most round one candidates start as early as February or March to build their profile, so that the application pitch becomes clear and compelling enough to be met with both admit outcome and scholarship generosity.”

But be patient

Patience is important too. While it makes sense to apply for scholarship funding early, some schools delay making awards decisions until later in the application cycle, because they hope candidates will accept an offer of an MBA place before having to offer them money.


To receive a scholarship offer, you may need to hold out until the official deadline. The downside is that the pressure can be uncomfortable for some applicants who have multiple offers from business schools.

Perform well on the GMAT

Matt Symonds, director of admissions consultancy Fortuna Admissions, says that higher GMAT scores are an influential factor in schools’ thinking for scholarship decisions. GMAT scores affect a school’s position in rankings and a higher GMAT average may indicate to an applicant that the MBA cohort is high quality.

Express enthusiasm for the school

Those who maximize their offer of financial aid are usually the most genuine, say admissions consultants. It is important to make it clear to a business school that you are interested in the offer of an MBA place. Explain why you want to attend the school, and express gratitude for any money offered.

Symonds adds: “Generate essays for your application that really stand out and have the power to persuade the admissions and financial aid office to go the extra mile in the offers they make.”

While success is not guaranteed, the good news is that many top US schools are moving to merit-based rather than needs-based financial aid, as they target particular student profiles, such as women and ethnic minority candidates, says Symonds. 

Schools are also awarding more scholarships to prospective students. According to GMAC, 61 percent of this year’s business school students are receiving scholarships based on merit or financial need, or a combination of both.


So, there are plenty of reasons to ask for more money and few downsides to doing that. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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