One of the biggest hurdles to confront when considering an MBA is the cost. Most full-time programs publicize significant scholarships offerings, but applicants should know that earning one of these awards is extremely competitive and certainly not the norm for most MBA candidates.

The main reason for this is that top business schools use large scholarships to attract applicants who might otherwise choose a competitor program, or a better ranked school, over their own. In other words, scholarships are a yield tool that business schools use to secure top talent. MBA programs make their universities a lot of money, and investments in recruiting the best possible students pay off by improving class profile statistics, diversity, and other metrics that impact rankings and help attract high-quality candidates in future admissions cycles.

If you are looking for a sizable scholarship to help you pay for business school, you will need to be what that program considers a truly exceptional candidate. This isn’t always straightforward however; an 800 on the GMAT may not cut it if you don’t also add bring some element of diversity to the student population. But figuring out exactly what schools are looking for can be tricky and depends largely on institutional priorities. These could be around increasing diversity along any number of measures including underrepresented minorities, women, LGBTQ, geography, profession or industry, as well as growing new academic programs or institutional initiatives. For example, if a school is trying to build up a real estate program or specialization, there may be more scholarship opportunities that year for students who want to specialize and go into real estate after the MBA.

This is where the research you put into learning about various programs can pay off. Before you apply, learn as much about a program as possible. How might you add to the program’s diversity? What is your differentiating factor as a candidate? You might have to think long and hard, and dig deep. Even if it doesn’t earn you a scholarship, at the very least, thinking through these points will help you to approach your application and essays with a stronger sense of self (some might say “personal brand”) and how you will benefit and align with the programs to which you apply.

Sarah DeGraaf
Having earned her MBA from NYU Stern, Sarah served as an MBA admissions officer for nearly a decade at NYU. She has a deep knowledge of top-ranked MBA programs and what’s required of applicants who hope to earn admission.