Other than the GMAT, scholarship negotiations may be the most dreaded part of the MBA admissions process for many applicants. Despite what some students tell me, it doesn’t have to be adversarial or stressful, and it can actually enhance your relationship with the MBA Program Director or Admissions Director. Here are some tips for successful negotiations.
Have realistic expectations
Many applicants go into the admission process expecting a full scholarship and are disappointed with any other award. Many variables go into a scholarship allocation, some of which are dependent on the applicant (grades, GPA, letters of recommendation, test scores, interactions with the admission team, etc.). Other variables may have to do with the funding available in a particular academic year, the number of applicants and/or the internal goals of the specific program. An MBA is a valuable degree with a well-documented return on investment. Going in with the expectation that you are going to have to fund at least a portion of your education is a smart assumption.
Communicate respectfully with all members of the MBA team
Most programs track all interactions with prospective students. Being respectful to all MBA staff (including student workers and reception staff) demonstrates a level of professionalism that can only help your scholarship negotiation. The converse is also true. A few years ago, we revoked our offer of admission and scholarship to an applicant who was verbally abusive to our office manager over the phone.
Ask not what the school can do for you …
In a scholarship negotiation, it may be in your best interest to communicate how you intend to support the culture of the organization and enhance the student learning community. For example, if you intend to get involved with student organizations, mention your interest in serving in a leadership role. If you have industry connections that may benefit other students, or if you have connections to other high-quality applicants, it makes sense to discuss them with the admissions director.
Crunch the numbers
Before scheduling a conversation to discuss your scholarship, I recommend doing an analysis showing the gaps that exist between the tuition of the program you are considering and all available sources of funding (loans, grants, family support, savings, etc.) Knowing that number will help you negotiate more effectively. In addition, if the admissions director knows you are willing to exhaust all sources of funding before asking for additional assistance, it may increase your chances of a successful outcome.
Try to schedule a direct conversation in person, or via Skype
A scholarship negotiation should be scheduled and done in person, if possible. This demonstrates respect for the admissions director’s time and shows you are serious about the program. When a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible, Skype is preferable to the phone because it allows you to maintain eye contact and check for non-verbal cues. Be sure to dress professionally for this meeting.
Issue any ultimatums
When a student tells me they will only attend my program if they receive a full ride, or if we match what they received from another school, it demonstrates a lack of maturity and professionalism. More importantly, it is almost never successful. It’s a much better idea to use some of the tactics listed above to make a case for increased scholarship than to demand it.
Compare offers between schools/applicants
MBA programs are not perfect substitutes; therefore, comparing your offer from a competing program is not a recommended strategy. As a Program Director, I do have some discretion with scholarship allocations and I’m going to use it to help those I believe are genuinely interested in our program. If I feel like a student is going to pick his or her school based solely on a scholarship offer, I almost never take the bait.
Discuss your offer with other prospective students
A scholarship offer is personal and should be treated as confidential. Just as it is not advised to compare salaries at work, discussing your scholarship offer with other prospective students is detrimental to all parties. Telling me that I should increase your scholarship because someone else received a better one doesn’t only hurt you. It also has the potential to damage the other applicant’s relationship with the admissions committee. Your argument for increased funding should be based on your own needs (#4 above) and unique qualifications (#3 above).
Burn any bridges
Even if the scholarship negotiation does not go well, be sure to remain cordial and professional with the admissions director. Why is this a good idea? A few years ago, I worked with a student whom I really liked but wasn’t able to meet her scholarship requirements. Even though she attended another institution, we stayed in touch and connected on LinkedIn. Last year, she emailed me to see if I could introduce her to one of my connections. That introduction led to a full-time job opportunity for her.