How to Secure an Online MBA Scholarship

Awards are rising but so is competition

The cost of an MBA, even one delivered digitally, can be substantial. Finance is a key concern for prospective students, who often seek out multiple sources of funding for their degree program. Online MBA scholarships are one of the most attractive ways to cut the cost of tuition, with business schools and nonprofit organizations dolling out significant amounts of money to the best and brightest candidates.

So, what scholarships are available? How to win one?

At most business schools, scholarships are either merit- or needs-based. Merit scholarships are awarded to students who show significant academic and professional potential or achievement, say by achieving a superior standardized test score or stellar undergraduate GPA. Needs-based awards are gifted to students with a demonstrable financial need.

Schools also offer substantial awards to draw a diverse intake of students. Karen Barker, head of marketing and recruitment at the UK’s Warwick Business School, says: “Our scholarship offering has been designed to promote excellence and diversity within each class, across professional sector, geography, gender and experience.”

It is this diverse mix of skills, knowledge and cultures that helps a cohort learn from each other and understand the different viewpoints and stakeholders involved in running an organization, she adds.

The school’s Distance Learning MBA scholarships cover up to 25 percent of the program fee. Examples include the Change Maker scholarship for those who seek to innovate in the world and the Inspiring Social Impact scholarship for those working in the public sector who want to use business as a force for good.

Across all the school’s Online MBA scholarships, Barker says: “We really want to attract people who have that drive and ambition to bring about positive change, whether it is in championing under-represented groups in business leadership positions or tackling the environmental issues that organizations face as the world battles climate change.”

Likewise, other top business schools offer a range of scholarships for their Online MBA programs. London’s Imperial College Business School has a wide range of awards for online students including Imperial Business Scholarships typically worth £5,000 and the Dean’s Excellence Award worth a heftier £15,000.

Over in the US, USC Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles may offer Online MBA students scholarships with an offer of admission. Amounts range from $5,000 to $20,000 and factors used to award scholarships include leadership experience and academic merit.

Florida International University’s business school, meanwhile, offers performance-based scholarships of up to $15,000.

Scholarships not particularly common in the Online MBA world

Competition between institutions in recent years means many have upped the ante. Chioma Isiadinso, founder and chief executive of the New York admissions agency Expartus, says: “The hunt for the best students in the online business school world is fueling the scholarship awards to attract and enroll the best talent.”

However, she adds that scholarships are not as common in the Online MBA world with most of the funding reserved for attracting full-time students who are incurring a substantial opportunity cost of being out of the workforce. Online MBA students, on the other hand, can typically continue earning while they learn.

“While Online MBA programs are a fraction of the cost of traditional MBAs, they still do come with a sizable price-tag, making scholarships attractive incentives for applicants,” says Isiadinso. The scarcity of Online MBA scholarships means that candidates have to conduct thorough research ahead of applying to business schools.

But it is surely worth the effort, with those gaining a scholarship seeing not only the immediate financial support that it brings, but often taking on an ambassadorial role with a school, giving them opportunities to promote themselves and network with employers.

“It is also something they can add to their CV and showcase to potential employers, who will be looking for people who can represent their organization with important stakeholders,” says Warwick’s Barker.

How to land an Online MBA scholarship

With such prospects, competition for these awards is high, especially given the rise in demand for Online MBAs triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Prospective students should raise the quality of their overall application in order to secure a financial award, says Isiadinso. “Applicants should avoid rushing through the application process. Submitting applications that are strong puts applicants in a strong standing to get scholarships.”  

As Online MBAs become more accepted, the provision of scholarships is increasing. Among all of admission consultant Stacy Blackman’s clients, there has been an annual increase of about 10 percent in awards over the past three years.

She says the trend is driven partly by funding from advocacy groups such as the Consortium, America’s largest diversity network and the Forte Foundation, a non-profit which is striving to help more women succeed in business. It has awarded $226m in Forté Fellowships to date.

“Increases in scholarships are likely fuelled in large part by the strategic relationships between MBA programs and these thriving advocacy groups, which derive funding from generous sources including corporations,” says Blackman.

While third-party scholarships are bountiful, she says awards that arrive concurrent to an MBA admissions offer are the best way to defray tuition cost. “Your application quality on its own can invoke a windfall of scholarship dollars. Diligence and strategic planning in developing your MBA application pays off,” she says.

However, fierce competition for these scholarship dollars means you’ll benefit greatly from having the time to build a strong pitch for why you deserve a coveted spot in the program.

Blackman says the key is to know your own niche relative to the cohort in which you’re competing, then identifying and showcasing ways you are unusual relative to your industry’s applicant pool. The savviest students receive multiple offers and can leverage them to negotiate a slightly larger offer, she says.

Back at Warwick, Barker’s advice for prospective students is to showcase the stories and achievements that have brought them to apply for an MBA. “It is important this is detailed in the application, essays and during the interview process.”

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