MBA Scholarships: What to Know and How to Apply

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It’s no secret that pursuing a degree in higher education can be expensive. The cost of graduate school, including MBA programs, can vary depending on the institution, whether the program is online or on-campus, and a range of other factors. However, Investopedia reported that the typical private school MBA graduate student can incur as much as $100,000 to $200,000 in student debt over a two-year program. This includes costs like tuition, on-campus housing, as well as the price of books and other resources.

An online program, on the other hand, can help reduce these costs significantly. Online higher education resource AffordableCollegesOnline.com reported that the typical online MBA costs an average of $35,000 for in-state students and $40,000 for out-of-state learners in tuition costs.

Selecting a more cost-effective and flexible online MBA program is just one of the ways students can offset the price of higher education. Despite the price tag, an MBA program is an investment and can provide a considerable return in terms of career potential and earning power.

As students prepare to work toward this academic achievement, one important element to consider is how they will pay for earning an MBA. Financial aid, including scholarships and fellowships, are especially helpful here. There are a few things that MBA and other graduate students need to know about the types of aid available, where to look for these financial awards and how to apply for them.

When to Start the Process

One of the first questions many MBA applicants ask is when they should begin looking into financial aid, and particularly when to research and apply for student scholarships.

As federal resource StudentAid.gov pointed out, the timing of the application all depends on the deadline for each scholarship. Some scholarships and other aid programs include deadlines that are a full year before the beginning of the program. This is why it’s best that students begin looking into their available scholarship, fellowship and financial aid options as soon as possible.

StudentAid.gov recommended researching and applying for scholarships well before the start of the program. It’s never too early to research what help might be available, and it’s important to keep track of deadlines accordingly. If you’re currently working toward completing your bachelor’s degree and have plans to immediately move on to graduate school like an MBA program, there may already be scholarships available.

Getting the process started early will help you be more prepared and ensure that you don’t miss any key scholarship deadlines.

What Kinds of MBA Scholarships Are Available?

As AffordableCollegesOnline.org noted, there are a few main types of scholarships to be aware of, including:

  • Need-based scholarships and awards: These are scholarships (financial gifts, which do not have to be repaid, in contrast with financial aid loans, which need to be repaid at a later date, often after graduation) specifically created for students who can demonstrate financial need for this type of assistance. This might include individuals of low economic standing, or those with other significant financial obligations.
  • Merit-based scholarships: These awards are for students who have considerable academic achievement in their undergraduate or other grad school career. Merit scholarships might require that students achieve a certain GPA to apply, or have other education-based prerequisites.
  • Targeted scholarships: The purpose of this type of financial assistance is to help improve diversity among the grad school student body and increase representation for minorities and other groups. For instance, AffordableCollegesOnline.org noted that there are specific targeted scholarships for African American students, individuals with Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, Hispanic or Latinx students, Native American individuals, as well as female and LGBT+ students.

These scholarships can be awarded from a range of different sources, including directly from the higher education institution, certain academic clubs or organizations, as well as outside nonprofit or charitable organizations.

Scholarships vs. Fellowships

While both are types of financial aid, there are key differences between scholarships and fellowships, and it’s important to understand the distinction before applying.

A scholarship is a financial gift granted to a student based on specific criteria. These might include the ability to demonstrate financial need, specific academic achievements, etc.

A fellowship, on the other hand, is a grant that is awarded to a graduate student to help support and further their research in a particular area of study. Often, students must complete this research under the supervision of a certain faculty member or professor. And, unlike other general scholarships, these awards are almost solely merit-based.

What Types of Scholarships Should MBA Students Consider?

The above overarching categories are only the beginning when it comes to available MBA scholarships. These types of awards, including those for minority students, academic-based achievements and need-based assistance, can come in different forms and from varying sources.

Adam Callery, a Chicago-area professor and MBA graduate, told U.S. News & World Report that it would be a mistake for MBA students to overlook applying for scholarships, and not to let a fear of rejection stand in their way. Callery also recommended that as students are applying for these awards, they not shy away from highlighting and even boasting about their academic achievements.

“Humility gets in the way, where people will not be specific enough about the accomplishments that they made in their community,” Callery said.

In particular, Callery advises that MBA candidates look for scholarships including:

  • National scholarships and MBA fellowships: Many of these awards do not require that students attend a particular school, but are simply awarded to students attending MBA programs at U.S.-based institutions. National scholarships might be targeted to new citizens, for example, or involve a collaboration between the higher education institution and a nonprofit organization.
  • University scholarships: Where national scholarships might be more general, a university scholarship is specifically awarded to graduate students attending a particular school. For instance, the Knight-Hennessy scholarship provides up to three years of graduate school funding assistance for Stanford MBA students.
  • Full tuition, B-school scholarships: Where something like the Knight-Hennessy program could be considerably attractive for students seeking to attend prestigious schools like Stanford, smaller and lesser-known schools also offer generous scholarships to help attract prospective students. S. News & World Report noted that in 2019, Babson College in Massachusetts provided 20 full-tuition scholarships for MBA students to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary.
  • Small scholarships: Although finding a large scholarship to fully fund graduate school is an exciting prospect, Callery advised that MBA students not overlook smaller scholarships and financial awards which can be combined to help cover the cost of the program.

“There is tremendous value in adding up small MBA scholarships,” U.S. News & World Report reporter Ilana Kowarski wrote. “Combining multiple scholarships can occasionally result in just as much money as a full scholarship would.”

Researching Scholarships: Where to Look

When it comes to finding available scholarships, there are a number of different resources MBA applicants can leverage. These include online directories and search tools that can help connect MBA candidates with eligible scholarships and fellowships.

Study.com highlighted these search tools specifically for MBA scholarships:

  • gov: This is the U.S. government’s federal student aid assistance website, and includes a searchable database of federal scholarships awarded by government agencies and other organizations.
  • org: This is another federal resource for MBA scholarships and enables students to search a database of available scholarship aid resources. Whereas StudentAid.gov belongs to the U.S. Department of Education, CareerInfoNet.org is hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor and may provide different resources or options for MBA candidates seeking scholarships.
  • Sallie Mae: While a well-known source of private higher education loans, Sallie Mae also offers a Scholarship Search tool, including resources specifically for graduate school scholarships.
  • The school’s financial aid office: It’s also important that MBA candidates not overlook the resources offered by their college or university. Schools’ financial offices will have information on the internal scholarships sponsored by the institution or college, as well as those available from outside organizations.
  • Businesses and other organizations: While we’ve touched on assistance potentially available from nonprofit and other charitable organizations, many for-profit businesses offer scholarships as well. For example, financial firm Morgan Stanley sponsors a merit scholarship for women and minority MBA candidates.

There are more than a few resources available for students to search and find scholarships that they are likely to qualify for. From those aimed at certain types of students to general awards that nearly any MBA candidate can qualify for, there are ample opportunities for students to gain assistance to help with the cost of their MBA program tuition.

Tips for Applying for Scholarships

After checking out available scholarship databases and finding potential financial aid, there are a few more things students should know about applying. Observing these tips can help increase the chances that students will qualify for and receive these important scholarships:

  • Understand the criteria: As noted above, there are different types of scholarships, including those specifically for those that can demonstrate financial need, as well as those for academic achievement. Before going through the process of applying, it’s key to read over the requirements for the scholarship or fellowship and ensure that students meet these needs.
  • Start early: The process of finding and applying for scholarships can take time, and MBA candidates shouldn’t expect to find all the financial aid they need in a single day. Instead, it’s imperative that MBA candidates begin their search early, research what is available to them, and be cognizant of the deadlines involved. As noted, some deadlines can fall as early as a year before the start of the program, and students should plan accordingly.
  • Apply for different types of scholarships: This includes full-tuition awards, as well as smaller scholarships that might help cover the cost of a new laptop or other supplementary materials. What’s more, higher education advisory firm Fortuna Admissions recommended that MBA candidates not be scared off by scholarships that have somewhat more intense or demanding requirements. Often, these scholarships will have a smaller pool of MBA applicants, which can increase the chances that students will earn this financial award.
  • Provide a polished essay: Many MBA scholarships and fellowships require that applicants submit a written essay along with their application. Scholarship disbursement officers will often use these materials to decide whether they’d like to meet with the applicant for an interview. MBA applicants’ scholarship essays represent a way for students to get their foot in the door. It’s imperative that this written statement offers the best representation of the individual and their worthiness for the award, and that applicants showcase their achievements accordingly to get the attention of these officials.

“All they have is your writing,” Callery noted. “If you’re not answering the question properly, meaning you’re not getting to the point of the question, that’s going to hurt you. If your punctuation is poor, if your grammar is poor, if there are typos in there, they’re never going to get to the rest of the application to see that you’re a great person.”

  • Be authentic and genuine: In addition to ensuring a grammatically correct statement, students must also include a bit of their personality in their essays. This will help decision-makers get a better feel for who students are, their backgrounds and interests and how these elements converge to inspire their MBA studies. Sarah Wong, MBA graduate student and scholarship winner, told TopMBA.com that including a narrative story can help students be authentic and thoughtful, and demonstrate their deservingness.
  • Don’t get discouraged: Students should apply for as many scholarships as they are eligible for, but it’s important for candidates to remember that they may not win every award. As students work to secure scholarships and higher education funding, there will be some disappointments along the way, similar to their process of getting accepted into their MBA program. That being said, it’s important that students not be discouraged — often, the competition for these awards is significant. But applying to smaller scholarships, ensuring requirements are met and providing a compelling and authentic essay can greatly improve students’ chances.
  • Avoid applications that include a fee: As AffordableCollegesOnline.com pointed out, if a scholarship application requires that students pay a fee to submit, this is a red flag that the award is actually a scam. This includes not only organizations purporting to provide scholarships, but search and database sites as well. Any website or resources that requires a fee is best avoided, and students should instead reach out to their school financial aid office or enrollment advisor to help them find more reputable sources.

Other Ways to Help Pay for MBA Programs

While scholarships and fellowships are attractive because they do not have to be repaid, these awards are not the only way to help finance the cost of higher education.

There are also private and federal student loans that MBA candidates can apply for. These include private loans through organizations like Sallie Mae, as well as federal aid programs like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

MBA candidates might also consider looking into any employer reimbursement programs that might be available. Some employers offer to help offset the cost of higher education or reimburse employees for these costs to attract top talent.

Overall, an MBA is a smart investment and can help students expand their career potential, earning power and capitalize on their academic achievements to further their professional goals.

To find out more, check out the Online Master of Business Administration program offered by the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. Connect with one of our expert enrollment advisors to learn about program requirements and available financial aid and scholarships today.

Recommended Reading:

What is Experiential Learning, and Why is it Beneficial for MBA Students?

Why Consider an MBA in Supply Chain Management

Sources:

Investopedia – The Real Cost of an MBA

AffordableCollegesOnline.org – What does an Online MBA Cost?

AffordableCollegesOnline.org – Paying for your MBA

StudentAid.gov – Finding and Applying for Scholarships

KeyDifferences.com – Difference Between Scholarship and Fellowship

U.S. News and World Report – Consider Applying for These 4 Types of MBA Scholarships

Study.com – Student Scholarships for a Masters or MBA Program: How to Find

Fortuna Admissions – Finding Scholarships for your MBA Program

StudentAid.gov – Graduate School Preparation Checklist