Scholarships Can Help Offset the Cost of Your Degree, But You Need to Know How to Find Them

Nov 9, 2016
Tags: Financial Aid, Value of an MBA

When making the decision to pursue a graduate business degree, the number one factor that gives candidates pause is cost. About half of mba.com registrants surveyed in 2015 (51%) said that a reservation they have about applying to business school is that it requires more money than they have available.  

To make the cost calculus work, candidates often rely on a mix of funding sources, which typically include personal savings, loans, and parental support, among others. A great way to help offset the cost of your degree is scholarships—which some candidates either overlook or simply don’t realize the extent to which they are available.

Merit Aid Most Common Form of Scholarship 


GMAC’s recent survey of business school admissions offices reveals that merit scholarships—financial awards granted on the basis of past academic or professional distinction—are the most widely distributed form of financial assistance offered by schools. In total, nearly 4 in 5 full-time MBA programs (80%) report that they offer merit scholarships to applicants as a means of reducing students’ tuition cost burden. More than a quarter of incoming students to full-time MBA programs (27%) will receive some level of merit scholarship in 2016.  

Merit scholarships are offered by a similar share of Master of Data Analytics (78%), Master of Finance (75%), Master in Management (70%), and Master of Accounting (67%) programs. Nearly a third of incoming Master of Accounting students in 2016 will receive a merit scholarship (31%); slightly smaller shares of incoming students to Master in Data Analytics (23%), Master of Finance (19%), and Master in Management (16%) programs will receive merit aid. 

Do you qualify for a merit scholarship?

Business school programs approach merit scholarships in different ways. To fully understand what merit-based funding opportunities exist at the schools and programs that interest you, check the school admissions websites for details. Some opportunities will require an additional application and may have a deadline that differs from the overall admissions deadline. 

Candidates who are serious about maximizing the amount of merit funding they receive should approach this aspect of the admissions process with the same level of thoroughness and attention to detail as they do to the application process. Keep in mind that to receive full consideration it is recommended that you apply early in the application cycle, as merit scholarships are typically offered to applicants after their application has been reviewed. The benefit to applicants can be huge—merit scholarships can range from small partial awards to full-tuition funding. 

Other Forms of Scholarship 

Beyond merit scholarships, there are several other types of financial assistance business schools offer to a limited number of candidates (based on Application Trends Survey findings). 

• Assistantships: Thirty-two percent of full-time MBA programs offered assistantship funding in 2016, which typically requires recipients to assist faculty with duties related to teaching. In total, five percent of incoming full-time two-year MBA candidates will receive assistantship funding. Similar shares of Master of Finance (5%) and Master of Accounting (4%) students will receive assistantships. 

• Fellowships: More than a quarter of full-time two-year MBA programs (29%) offered fellowships in 2016. This form of funding often comes from a specific individual, corporate, or foundation donor, and can be based on a variety of criteria, including academic or professional excellence, personal background, and more. Six percent of incoming full-time two-year MBA students will receive fellowship funding in 2016, compared with four percent of incoming Master in Management students. 

• Need-Based Scholarships: Need-based scholarships—offered on the basis of demonstrated financial need of the student—are available from 28 percent of full-time MBA programs, 15 percent of Master of Accounting programs, and 22 percent of Master in Management programs. Eleven percent of incoming Master in Management students and four percent of full-time two-year MBA students will receive need-based aid in 2016. 

• Stipend: Roughly a quarter of full-time two-year MBA programs (26%) offer stipends—funding to cover living expenses—though just two percent of incoming students will receive them in 2016. Four percent of Master in Management and Master of Accounting candidates will receive a stipend. 

• Reduced Tuition: Reduced tuition is any plan in which a student is allowed to pay a tuition rate below the normal rate. It can be offered on the basis of need, merit or other criteria. Twenty-three percent of full-time MBA programs offer reduced tuition—slightly more than the share offered by Master of Accounting (20%) and Master in Management (19%) programs. Just two percent of incoming full-time two-year MBA students received reduced tuition in 2016. 

• Work Study: The least common form of scholarship at graduate business schools is work study—a school facilitated opportunity to work part-time while attending school. Just ten percent of full-time two-year MBA programs offer work study, and just one percent of incoming students will receive such an opportunity in 2016.  

B-School Candidates Planning on Scholarship Aid

Recent findings from prospective student surveys reveal that today candidates are counting on scholarship aid more than ever before. Overall in 2011, candidates from around the world planned to cover 21 percent of the cost of their degree with funds from grants, fellowships, and/or scholarships. In 2015, that figure rose to 26 percent. This trend can be seen across countries:
• Candidate plans to use scholarship aid in their financing mix rose in the United States (16% in 2011 vs. 20% in 2015), China (15% in 2011 vs. 18% in 2015), and India (20% in 2011 vs. 30% in 2015). 

The Business School Payoff 


Data from business school alumni demonstrate that though your investment in a graduate business degree may be sizable, the payoff is much larger. Alumni of full-time two-year MBA programs from the graduating classes of 1986 to 2012 had an average total investment of US$105,000 and an initial boost in base salary of US$30,000. Their estimated time to recoup their investment was an average of 3.5 years. 

Across all program types, business school graduates earn a median cumulative base salary of US$2.5 million over 20 years following their graduation. This is US$500,000 more in cumulative base salary than they would earn if they did not go to graduate business school and consistently receive five percent annual salary increases, and nearly US$1,000,000 more than if they did not go to business school and consistently received three percent annual salary increases. 

Will you invest in yourself and apply to graduate business school? The journey begins by exploring what programs you’re interested in, and researching what scholarship opportunities are available to you. Get started on the SchoolFinder tool today! 

[1] GMAC (2016). mba.com Prospective Students Survey.

[2] GMAC (2016). Application Trends Survey. 


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