This is the time of year when applicants—the “lucky” ones, that is—often have to make some difficult decisions. Take the quandary posted by Omne at his blog, Omne’s MBA Journey. In a nutshell, Omne has been admitted by Wake Forest with a full-ride scholarship and waitlisted at UNC and Georgetown. He must give Wake Forest an answer by April 1, but is holding out hope that higher-ranked Kenan-Flagler and/or McDonough Georgetown will admit him off the wait list and offer him some dough. Their admit/deny decisions will be announced March 23, but their scholarship decisions won’t come until after April 1. Should he take the sure thing or reject Wake Forest in the hopes that UNC and/or Georgetown (assuming they admit him) offer him money? How do you weigh the value of free ride at a lower-ranked MBA against the potential brand and ROI advantages of a higher-ranked MBA that leaves you in the hole financially at graduation?
Well, first you can try to weigh it by the numbers. MBAs from Georgetown and UNC make about $94,000-95,000 right out of school, whereas Wake Forest MBAs pull in about $79,000. So right off the bat, some of the tuition money Omne is saving may well be sacrificed in lower income. BusinessWeek recently looked at MBA’s pay 20 years after earning their degrees at the top 45 schools. Georgetown and UNC MBAs were making about $161,000. Though Wake Forest does not appear in BusinessWeek’s study, it seems reasonable to assume that Wake Forest MBAs generally make less than the lowest-ranked schools in BW’s study, which ranged between $108,000 and the mid-$120,000s. Complicating this numbers analysis is the cost-of-living factor—some regions pay more than others, but then they cost more to live in too. Still, by this financial barometer, the income gap between Omne’s Wake Forest MBA and an MBA from UNC or Georgetown will only widen over his career—overwhelming whatever he may have saved by getting a free ride at Wake Forest.
And earning his MBA from higher-ranked B-schools like Georgetown and UNC may offer brand advantages—such as better name recognition in job markets outside these schools’ region—that Wake Forest can’t compete with. By that same token, if Omne’s ideal job market is Winston-Salem, NC, then Wake Forest and it’s free MBA may be his best all-round choice. But there are other complexities to consider, such as Omne’s preferred employer post-MBA. If he wants to join Bank of America, both UNC and Wake Forest are good choices, but Georgetown’s arguably the better bet if he wants to join Citigroup. And you can bet there will be local employers in Winston-Salem for whom a Wake Forest MBA will give Omne the inside track.
Omne needs to run the numbers, ask himself where he wants to spend his career geographically, which industry he’s set on and which employers he most wants to work for. When he does that, Wake Forest could pull closer to UNC and Georgetown in overall “payoff” (both material and personal). But strictly in terms of salary, an MBA from UNC and Georgetown with a partial scholarship looks like the better choice than a free-ride MBA from Wake Forest.
At this point in time to maintain flexibility, it may make most sense for Omne to pay the deposit at Wake Forest and keep his spot. If he is accepted at UNC or Georgetown and determines that the benefits of a UNC or Georgetown education are so great that he will forgo the full ride, they are probably great enough also to lose the deposit. Just chalk it up to the cost of an MBA education.
Paul Bodine is the author of “Great Application Essays for Business School” and “Perfect Phrases for Business School Acceptance.”
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