Negotiating your offer to business school used to be a fairly uncomplicated process, usually ending in a take-it-or-leave it situation for the applicant. The times, they are a-changing. Welcome to the new economy, where receiving incentives to go to one school over another has become the norm.
Just a decade ago, MBA students were actually paying for business school, but not any more. The “everyone gets a trophy” generation has fully descended upon the b-school process and schools have reluctantly accommodated. Breaking their backs to raise philanthropic dollars for fellowships and scholarships, there has never been a better time to receive funding from not only the big schools, but the lower-ranked schools as well.
As a matter of fact, lower ranked schools must be more aggressive with offers than the big schools, where the brand name and ranking are sometimes incentive enough. Still, over $230MM in fellowship and scholarship offers were made last year, and that was just from the top 25 schools according to Poets and Quants. In a strange environment where wage growth is down and employer-sponsored MBAs are at an all time low, the schools themselves are making up for the gap, it seems.
Whereas just a few years ago it was considered taboo to use a scholarship offer to up the ante at another school, this exact technique has become de rigueur in b-school world. This means schools are now actually expecting you to negotiate your offer, just make sure you do it thoughtfully and never bluff. Faking and offer from another school is a sure way to have your admissions retracted altogether. If you are respectful and honest, you may be able to put a serious ding in what would otherwise be a six-figure tuition bill.
Tuition discounts or cash in your bursar's account is just the beginning.
Many schools, especially the public ones, are offering full tuition waivers through GRA fellowships. Graduate Research Assistantships are a great way to avoid paying tuition by working a few hours a week at your dream school. GRA positions are limited, but plentiful, meaning not everyone can get one, but lots of people can. Don’t be scared of working 8-15 hours per week either---often these positions are desk-jocky “jobs” where your responsibilities are low and you can sometimes even study on the job. Positions are allocated all across the school, so you might find yourself assisting a professor, working in the career center, or even assisting the fundraising team. The upshot is, you earn actual work experience you can put on your resume, which could make up for the one internship you have in a fulltime two year program.
Whether it’s a GRA offer, a fellowship offer or a research grant, the odds are best for your receiving something if you apply early. By now, during round three and beyond, most of the GRA slots are filled and the philanthropic dollars expended. If you are just now looking into b-school and have plans to apply in round one, however, you are very well positioned.