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How will scholarships and financial aid influence your admissions decision?

It’s an enviable situation to be in – multiple admits from top schools – some with attractive scholarship offers (including free rides). It can also be confusing and frustrating when you can only choose one from the mouth-watering options. Will you choose your top choice program (with no financial aid) over other offers that including significant scholarship amounts?

Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala (Regional Director, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth), provides perspectives on how to deal with the dilemma of multiple admits.

The Financial Aid Conundrum

Will you change your mind based on Scholarship decisions?


Top 10 MBA Admissions Officer - SudsBy now, you’ve read the other blog posts. You’ve figured out how to differentiate yourself when applying to a business school. You’ve figured out how to think about fit, and you know which school(s) is/are the right fit for you. You’ve given careful thought and finalized your post MBA career plans after due consideration.

You’ve submitted compelling applications to select MBA programs, and have done well. You got into your dream school without scholarship. Another school that wasn’t at the top of your list has given you a scholarship. You’re in a bind. Do you go for the dream school knowing you’ll be in major debt at the time of graduation? Do you pick the school with scholarship simply because it seems like the prudent thing to do – what’s not to like about graduating without much or no debt to worry about? What do you do?

That’s a tough one to speak to Indian applicants about. People are understandably swayed by the prospect of spending less on an MBA degree, and are willing to lap up any financial aid or scholarship that comes their way.

The argument these candidates typically lay down is the fact that the US-INR exchange rate doesn’t seem to be improving any time soon, and it helps to have less debt when graduating.

All valid points. But let me offer you a different perspective.

What if I told you, where you graduate from, and the opportunities that come your way as a result of where you graduate from should trump financial aid consideration?

What if I told you short-term financing shouldn’t be used to develop a long-term asset – a post-MBA career in this case (and that’s a corporate finance 101 concept)?

What if I told you there are plenty of Indian candidates who have refused full scholarship at one school to take up their MBA from a school that gave them absolutely no funding at all?

And what if I told you, the candidates who took the counter-intuitive decision are doing excellently in their respective careers in spite of the decision (rather, because of it)?

The awarding of financial aid to admitted students is serious business for the Admissions Committee and the Financial Aid Office of any business school. There are need-based scholarships and merit-based scholarships.

There are competing priorities – there are so many deserving candidates and there is a finite amount of funding. Knowing very well that a “desirable” candidate is applying to multiple schools of a similar caliber, some schools are able to dangle the carrot of funding to get the candidate to prioritize that school ahead of other schools that maybe top-of-mind for the candidate.

Is it wrong for schools to do that? That’s their prerogative. Through this post, I hope to show you there’s life beyond scholarship and that that’s not the only lens through which matriculation decisions need to be considered.

Take for instance, the case of Ravi. He was always interested in doing something in the social sector – but not exactly sure how he was going to go about it. He applied to a few schools that he was interested in, and got admitted to Tuck. He was sure he was going to Tuck since the school was at the top of his list. That changed when he heard back from Ross and he got a full ride for his MBA there. He was now pretty sure he was going to Ross since the luxury of not taking a debt was too compelling to ignore.

Somewhere in the subconscious, the question still kept nagging him. He reasoned, “I had identified Tuck as my number one school without any other factor weighing on me – scholarship being one of them. So is scholarship such a heavy factor that should change my priority? All else being equal, shouldn’t I still be thinking of Tuck?”

So he did something that was really path breaking. He decided to attend the Admitted Students Weekend (ASW) at Tuck to see for himself, what he had heard all along about the tight-knit community, the opportunities available to students, the thought leading faculty, etc.

At the ASW, he connected with the person who ran the Center for Business and Society to understand exactly how the center will empower him as he pursues his passion, met with a number of faculty, and of course, interacted with current students and his future classmates.

He was so impressed with what he saw in person, he was so completely in love with the community, and he so believed that Tuck had all the answers and resources that would help him achieve the goals he had set for himself, that he decided to forgo the full ride at Ross to come to Tuck. And he’s never looked back. He’s now a very successful entrepreneur doing things in social sector that he was always so passionate about, and the loan he graduated with never got in the way of his goals.

The point of the above example is not to sell Tuck. That just happens to be an example I know. It could very well have been the other way around – Tuck giving scholarship, Ross not giving scholarship, and Ross being at the top of his list, and he going to Ross since he believed in what the school had to offer.

A vast number of admitted candidates out there who prioritize funding over the school. There are some who are so dogged in the pursuit of their goals and from where they want to do it, that nothing can shake their conviction. And even if their conviction is shaken momentarily, they get back to their steady state before long. Is one approach better than the other? The former is an expedient way of doing things. The latter is a more reasoned approach that the person with mettle takes.

Do you have what it takes to be successful? If so, you will be successful with or without a scholarship. Do you prefer one school over the other for any number of reasons that does not include financing – purely from the experience, network, access to faculty, leadership point of view? If so, why should the presence or absence of scholarship affect your personal preference?

So think about that for a second. Or a few minutes. Maybe days. If I’ve succeeded in making even one person think twice about blindly going for a school that gives financial aid, especially when the school is not at the top of her/his list, I’ll have achieved the goal for this blog post.

A brief note on financing while we’re on the topic:

There are any number of loan products that banks in India offer admitted students where typically some kind of asset is required as a guarantee. Similarly, there are US banks that offer loans, but typically require a US co-signor as a guarantor. There are a few schools, Tuck being one of them, where financing is pretty much assured by virtue of being admitted to the school – there’s no US co-signor required, the financial aid office works with each student to get the loan taken care of, and there’s no mortgaging of any asset that’s expected.

All said and done, believe that you have what it takes to be successful, with or without financial aid. You are going to step into a career that will get you closer to your personal goals soon, if not straight out of business school. And you will do well for yourself, and for the world.

At some point in life, money stops being a consideration and people start yearning for that supreme sense of satisfaction. In your case, I hope that point comes sooner than later – maybe even before you head to business school!

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Sudershan Tirumala
About Sudershan Tirumala
Suds' association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

4 thoughts on “How will scholarships and financial aid influence your admissions decision?”

  1. Great article. Thank you Mr. Tirumala.
    Though monetary aspect cannot be ignored fully, choice needs to be based on where we want to be after b-school education.

    • Thanks for your note, Shubham. I’m of the firm belief that money shouldn’t be the defining feature of any decision. It’ll bring short-term relief for sure, but likely not long-term satisfaction.


  2. Sir, I am a 2nd year student pursuing in CS and i wish to get MS or MBA in the coherent domain but the major upsetting factor is the fees and overall expenditure. I want to know how can I reduce my expenses? What should I do in order to get RA/TA and scholarships ? Any help would be appreciated!
    *I am the kind of guy who can drink lemonade with ‘phoren’ friends*

    • Prakhar,

      Thanks for your question. Glad to hear you’re giving this a thought so early in your undergraduate studies. Most people don’t start asking this question until after the fact, when it’s already too late to impact the academic performance in college.

      First, do really well in your academics and don’t let distractions take you away from studies. You have more than two years to make a difference in your GPA in case you haven’t yet got started on that.

      If you want to do MBA, I’d suggest working for 3+ years after graduating so that you’re able to make an excellent case for yourself in the application. Don’t make the mistake of going for an MBA right after completing your B.Tech. If you want to do MS, I guess you could do so right after your undergrad.

      Whichever route you decide, make sure you give ample time to prepare for GMAT/GRE as the case maybe and ace those tests. That should set you up to get admitted in a top school for either MBA or MS.

      Whether or not you get a scholarship, you should be well on your way to a rewarding career. All said and done, going forward, you should shun mediocrity and shoot for exceptional performance no matter what you take up whether in studies or job. That’s the bottom line.

      All the best.


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