MBA Choices: Dream School vs. Scholarship School?

Deciding on the right MBA program

Deciding on the right MBA program

Sweet agony.  You have been accepted to both your cherished top-5 reach MBA programs and a strong but less competitive school that has offered you a great scholarship.  How do you choose between them?

Of course there’s no one right answer, because each person’s MBA priorities and life situation are unique.  And these factors are exactly what should drive your decision.

Start with MBA priorities.  Let’s assume that the curricula at the two programs both will meet your educational needs well – otherwise you wouldn’t have applied to them.  That leaves other factors, mainly brand and recruiting, that will be important to you in varying degrees.  In a nutshell, the key is to understand and weight the practical advantages of the non-scholarship program to determine whether they make it worth renouncing the scholarship.

  • Recruiting: how important is recruiting for your MBA plans?  If it’s critically important and the non-scholarship school is far superior in this regard, then that point may strongly favor that program regardless of the other’s short-term financial advantage.  In another scenario, the top-ranked program offers superior recruiting – but you have a robust industry network and can likely find yourself a desirable internship or post-MBA offer.  In that case, the recruiting weighs less and the scholarship school grows relatively more attractive.
  • Brand: everyone loves the glitter of a global brand.  But how important is it in practical terms to your post-MBA plans?  Clarify whether it’s nice-to-have, make-or-break, or something in between.  Evaluate accordingly.
  • Other school factors: Sometimes a given school’s alumni network will have special relevance, e.g., Stanford’s tech entrepreneur network.  Sometimes there is a special major such as Wharton’s healthcare concentration or special program like Chicago Booth’s Clean Tech Lab.  In determining their weight in your decision, consider what practical benefit they offer you.  Assess accordingly.

Finally, your own current financial situation may have a bearing.  If you’re unencumbered by family financial responsibilities and have a lucrative job, you’re at greater liberty to take more risk – so even if the objective analysis doesn’t clearly favor the non-scholarship school but your heart pulls you there, maybe go for it.  If you are more financially constrained, it makes sense to forego the scholarship only if the objective analysis strongly favors your dream school.

Cindy TokumitsuBy Cindy Tokumitsu, author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last thirteen years with Accepted. She can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and develop a winning admissions strategy.