How to Study an MBA for Free

How to Study an MBA for Free main image

It’s no secret that getting your MBA is an expensive endeavour. Once you take into account administration costs, living costs, and tuition fees, it’s little wonder some MBA students shell out over $200,000 for the privilege.

But you’re not alone worrying about finances. A lot of business school applicants face the same challenge when figuring out how to pay for their MBA.

For many hopeful students, landing funding is often the divisive factor on whether they’ll attend business school or not, which has led schools to be a little more creative when recruiting students. 

The rise of scholarships

Scholarship funds have become a key tool for business schools to attract an eclectic mix of MBA students – especially in the US.

The number of students using scholarships to fund their MBA has risen, surpassing savings, loans, and employer support as the largest funding source for graduate business degree courses.

According to the Financial Times, “a record 60 percent of this year’s MBA class at The Fuqua School of Business received scholarships, some with full payment of their fees.

“The school completed a $127m fundraising campaign last year, with the largest slice of money earmarked for student support.” This showcases a realization on the part of business schools that they need to do more to entice students.

Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are the biggest source of funding for prospective MBA students. In fact, exam administrator the Graduate Management Admission Council found in 2017, that it accounts for 30 percent of the average financial mix, compared to just 24 percent for loans.

Financial assistance

In 2018, a generous donation to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business paved the way for a US$30 million scholarship program, enabling all full-time MBA students to attend additional courses at the school for free.

Harvard Business School splashed out a whopping $36 million in scholarships in 2017, rising by $2 million from 2016 and the largest amount awarded in the school’s history.

However, it’s rare for students to receive a full-ride scholarship covering 100 percent of their costs, with the average annual award per Harvard MBA student being just $37,312.

Some institutions do however offer a free ride. In 2015, the W.P. Carey School of Business said they’d cut the price of the full-time MBA down to zero from $90,000.

How to land a scholarship

Earning an MBA scholarship combines smart negotiation, good preparation, and an ability to put your case forward effectively.

When applying, it’s important to make your request sound authentic, lay all your cards out, and not make yourself sound strident.

Being proactive with your request can only help your case for funding. If you put your initial request in writing, with as much detail as possible, this will get the ball rolling formally. If you haven’t received a reply in a week or so, feel free to give them a call to show you’re very interested in the school.

Similarly, it’s important to get your request in promptly. Financial aids are given a particular budget for each class, and obviously they’ll have more money to play with earlier on in the application process.

And finally, you’ll need to be a strong applicant. It’s usually the standard parts of an MBA application that are critiqued for scholarships. The board will be looking for the candidates with the highest GMAT, and the best/richest work experience.

Notable scholarships

Forté Fellows Program

Women looking to pursue a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA education at participating business schools – look no further.

To be considered for a fellowship, applicants must submit an MBA application to a participating institution. Each school then decides whether the Forté award will be given. All schools grant awards for full-time students, but part-time and executive awards are only available at select schools.

Knight-Hennessy Scholars Fellowship

Is Stanford Graduate School of Business the place for you? With up to 100 fully-funded spots available for graduate degree programs like the JD, MBA, MD and PhD degrees, it’ll be a scramble for applicants we’re sure.

Students will receive an academic and living stipend to live within the Stanford graduate community at the Denning House. Scholars can be from any country but must hold at least the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree.

Morgan Stanley MBA Fellowship Program

Morgan Stanley’s Investment Management department is offering a Summer Associate Internship and a scholarship for first year MBA students.

Women, black, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT MBA students are all eligible to apply. The lucky students will spend the summer internship at one North America’s Morgan Stanley locations. Application deadlines are dependent on areas of interest. Students must apply through Morgan Stanley at this link or through their business school’s on-campus system.

Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program

This two-year full-tuition fellowship is awarded to up to 25 Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership potential.

Alongside their MBA curriculum, Park Fellows also take part in a robust leadership development program.

The fellowship program boasts a cohort of 25 learning partners developing leadership skills; a two-year developmental sequence based on the development of personal, interpersonal, team and system mastery skills; a constant cycle of experiential learning and reflection; a track record of leadership performance that is made through contributions to the school and surrounding community. Must be a US citizen to apply.

Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship

The Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship Program pays for tuition and associated fees (approximately US $150,000) for African citizens with financial need who want to earn an MBA at Stanford GSB.

Within two years of graduation from Stanford GSB, Stanford Africa MBA Fellows are required to return to Africa to work for at least two years in a professional role that contributes to the continent’s development.

To find out the real benefits of a full-ride MBA, check out our story here.

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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