Doing the Fellowship Shuffle

Stanford’s financial aid missteps have been all over the news this week, which should get us all thinking about scholarship and fellowship opportunities in general.  If you are currently applying to b-school, you should definitely be considering how you might make the journey more affordable with support from your target schools. And whether or not your school is giving you accurate information about how it all works.

In case you have been living under a rock or buried too deeply in MBA application routines lately, you might not have seen the press release this week about Stanford GSB and the exposure of false information they had been pushing out to applicants for years regarding financial aid.

As the most selective b-school in the world, Stanford GSB has always purported quite adamantly that all financial aid decisions there were based on need vs. merit. This assertion is precisely what landed them in hot water when a data breach revealed that quite the opposite is actually true.  We’re not sure yet what the aftermath will be for Stanford (or for other schools), but the revelation from the West Coast has everyone focusing on financial aid with high alert.

If you think about it, need-based fellowships make sense for top schools, where over-qualification is the standard. 

Heck, if they tried to split hairs between on who more deserves merit-based funding, they’d likely find that a random throw of darts would yield similar results.  To complicate the issue, a desperate need for diversity in the student body pretty much requires them to deploy financial incentives which are aligned with desirable traits from under-represented groups including females, and people of color for starters.  Top schools clamor over candidates who bring not only a full slate of core qualifications to the table, but also an extra measure of perspective that the average candidate may not offer, and the ability to incentivize them with a tuition discount or fellowship is just what the doctor ordered to ensure a diverse class each year. From this view, it’s hard to fault Stanford for their practice of competing in this competitive market, so let’s just agree that he big problem for them has simply come from not telling the whole truth. 

But even if you are not applying to Stanford, how confident are you that the information you receive from your target school is accurate?

Most schools do exactly the same thing Stanford was doing in practice, so you might want to follow up with schools who claim they reward financial aid based purely on financial need.  A quick call to the admissions office could likely help get some clarity on your school’s official position. 

As an applicant, you may not even realize that most schools automatically consider you for fellowships (I say fellowships instead of scholarships simply because most aid of this type at the graduate level is called a fellowship vs. scholarship, a word which is most often used at the undergraduate level).  In case you missed that, you generally don’t have to fill out any additional paperwork at all to place yourself in the running for this free money.  Clients ask us each year how to apply for fellowships, when the easy answer is:  you don’t have to.  If you are going to be offered fellowship incentives, it’s usually done at the time you receive your acceptance letter.  Right there in the body of the “congratulations,” you will generally also find a sentence which spells out your fellowship offer.

Fellowship offers from top schools are usually non-negotiable, and also come with an exploding deadline. 

If you are lucky enough to receive a fellowship from a top school, take it as a compliment, but know that you will also have to fairly quickly decide whether or not to accept it.  Schools become impatient with applicants who try to hold out for other offers or worse yet, game the system in an attempt to sweeten the pot.  Take-it-or-leave-it is essentially the truism for b-school fellowships.

Although most fellowships are automatic, there are several fellowship opportunities out there which are either unconnected to a particular school (and therefore require separate application), or are special opportunities within a school which may require an additional essay or application.  Admissions offices can be helpful in identifying such opportunities, but far and away the bulk of monies awarded come through each school’s general process.  If you would like to discuss ways to make your application more attractive for fellowships, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

To find out more about your options and how we can guide your business school application process, email us at or contact us via