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How to Go to Business School for Free

How to Go to Business School for Free

By Alison Damast | BusinessWeek

Many business school applicants figure their essay writing is done when they learn they’ve gotten into one of the top business schools. Devin Griffin took the opposite tack when he received his Wharton acceptance letter, sitting down at his computer and writing yet another essay for the admissions committee. His thoughts on leadership would, he hoped, give him a shot at acquiring what he called Wharton’s crown jewel of financial aid, the Howard E. Mitchell Scholarship, a two-year, full-tuition scholarship covering Wharton’s $80,000 per year tuition and fees.

“After I handed in the application, I was holding my breath every day,” says Griffin, who was working at the time at the National Basketball Assn.’s team marketing and business operations group. “There was so much anticipation and so much hope.”

His determination paid off a few weeks later when he when he received a phone call from a Wharton admissions officer with good news: He was one of 10 recipients of the Mitchell fellowship in his entering class. “It ended up being a huge weight off my shoulders,” Griffin says. “I was looking at $100,000-plus in debt.”

With tuition for a top MBA program averaging $150,000 for two years, and nearly 90% of students taking out loans, business school is increasingly becoming a more expensive proposition. The average debt for a student attending one of the top 20 business schools hovers around $80,000, according to Graduate Leverage, a student loan consolidation and debt management company in Boston. Yet every year, a highly selective group of students manages to snag a full-ride scholarship or fellowship. Needless to say, they’re among the most competitive awards in the management education sector and many top business schools offer only a handful each year.

Well-Rounded Superstars

There’s very little luck involved in getting a full ride. The students who get them tend to be all-around superstars, outstanding at everything from work to their involvement in the community, says Linda Abraham, an admissions consultant for And they work their applications to the max.

“I think the trick is you need to kind of do everything that will get you accepted, but on steroids,” says Linda Abrahams, “Students who want to get one need to show serious commitment, involvement, and impact. That is critical for getting a full or significant ride.”

But even if you are not at the top of your class or on the fast-track to a promotion at work, they are still worth considering, admissions officers say. Nontraditional candidates who may have launched their own startup or done some impressive community outreach can also be strong contenders for the awards, says Sara Neher, director of admissions at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which offers several full-tuition fellowships a year.

“I don’t think people should think they won’t get it if they don’t have the highest GMAT. There’s no minimum for the fellowships,” Neher says.

Regardless of how qualified you are, applying for one can still be a confusing process. At some schools, students are automatically selected for the fellowships during the regular admissions process, while at others students need to apply once they’ve gotten in. Here are some tips that could result in cutting your tuition bill to zero.