MBA Full-Tuition Scholarships: Myth or Reality?

Full-tuition scholarships are considered the holy grail of MBA program funding. But how many actually exist and what do you have to do to get one?

Getting a scholarship to cover the full tuition cost of an MBA program? Where do I sign up?

Last year, the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business announced that all students admitted to their full-time MBA program who were not receiving other sponsorship would be offered a full-tuition scholarship. Over the past couple years, Arizona State University's Carey School of Business has also been heavily subsidizing its Full-Time MBA program with full-tuition scholarships as well.

As exciting as this prospect may be, it’s a rarity among top business schools. According to business school representatives, full-tuition scholarships do exist, but they are not doled-out indiscriminately. 

“If someone were to apply to the full-time program and be admitted, and they had a very impressive application package, they could be offered a full tuition scholarship,” says Katie Radcliffe, director of admissions at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA“Approximately 80 percent of our full-time MBA students in the most recent class received a merit-based scholarship, of which the average amount was over 60 percent of tuition,” says Radcliffe.

“Amounts range from $10,000 to full tuition. The percentage of students that receive a full-tuition scholarship varies widely each year.”

[See the Top 10 MBA Programs for Scholarships]

So, what does a business school look for in an impressive candidate? 

Typically, GMAT or GRE scores and GPAs play a role in selection for all merit-based scholarships, including full-tuition scholarships. “Not because we want our average metrics to be high,” she says, “but because we want to make sure the candidates will be very successful in the classroom. We’re wanting to award merit-based scholarships to those who show high potential for success.”

However, “no scholarships are solely determined based on test scores or GPAs,” says Radcliffe. “We’re also looking at career progression, leadership and initiative in the workplace and outside the workplace, and community service.”

Radcliffe says finding the right fit between student and MBA program is the most important criteria. 

Ruthie Pyles, the Graduate Programs Admissions Director at Washington University at St. Louis’s Olin Business School agrees that finding that “fit” is an important factor.

“Other things [aside from test scores] that we’ll consider include how a student represents themselves in the essays, for example: alignment with the university, alignment with our mission and goals, the types of things that they want to have an impact on while they’re here, and within our community, that all plays a role as well,” says Pyles.

“We want students that are very well qualified, that are academically strong, that have really strong metrics,” she says. “But, at the same time, we are very interested in attracting individuals that come from a variety of different backgrounds but are interested in being a part of this community and making an impact on this community.”

At Rice University, Radcliffe says more full-tuition MBA scholarships are typically offered in first round of admissions, with fewer offered in consecutive rounds, meaning it pays to get your application in as early as possible if you’re eyeing the top awards.

[See the Top MBAs for Full-Ride Scholarships]

Beyond full-tuition scholarships

For those incoming MBA students who are not selected for a full-tuition scholarship, not all hope is lost.

This is because business schools also offer additional merit-based awards, beyond the rare full-tuition scholarships.

Central library at Vanderbilt UniversityFor example, at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, about 60 percent of MBA students receive at least some scholarship funding, according to Christie St. John, the school’s director of admissions. The average amount is $25,000 and annual tuition currently sits at $53,990 per year.

The top-tier scholarships are awarded to Dean’s Scholars, who are offered full tuition, as well as funding for study-related travel, research or special projects. They also gain access to exclusive networking events and mentoring.

“Dean’s Scholars are the crème de la crème, having excellent undergrad academics, top GMAT scores, outstanding interpersonal skills, and a career record of achievement and impact,” says St. John.

“We have a total class of 170 per year, so the Dean’s Scholars make up about 4 percent of the class. In addition, there are a few other candidates who may receive a full scholarship because of their outstanding academics, but who may not qualify for a Dean’s Scholarship for one reason or another.”

Indeed, to woo the most impressive candidates, some business schools offer scholarships that not only cover the full MBA tuition, but also provide stipends, an allowance for living expenses, and other kind of support. These awards, often called ‘full-ride’ scholarships, are rarer still than the full-tuition scholarships.

MBA Scholarship List

“We have something called the Crownover Scholars Program,” says Radcliffe at Rice - Jones, “which is a full tuition scholarship, plus an annual stipend, and that’s based on the evaluation of a number of things but, in general, leadership.”

For these kinds of awards, business schools will typically be looking for more than just a strong GMAT score and good undergraduate performance. 

“We’re looking for a pattern of leadership in an applicant’s resume, a progression,” says Radcliffe. “We’re looking for initiative, that they’re taking leadership roles outside of the workplace, taking them inside the workplace as well and really making an impact.”

Other scholarships help make MBA programs more affordable

Beyond merit-based scholarships, many business schools will offer MBA scholarships to students from underrepresented minorities and other groups of applicants. Some of these scholarships can cover the full cost of tuition. 

For instance, Vanderbilt – Owen has partnered with the Forté Foundation, which aims to advance women in business. The foundation offers scholarships in partnership with business schools, as well as mentoring and strengthening opportunities for its fellows.

St. John says, “we award about 20-30 Forté fellows every year. That amount can range anywhere from $10,000 to a full scholarship.”

Other full-tuition scholarships might be awarded to veterans.

Similarly, Washington University at St. Louis’s Olin Business School partners with The Consortium, which aims to boost diversity in the US business community by offering scholarships to MBA students who promote inclusion.

Pyles says “the types of opportunities that are part of scholarships with these organizations go beyond the financial aspect.”

“It is about connecting them to career opportunities, guiding them through the process and helping them understand how to present their value proposition.”

“I think the return on investment you get here is far greater than with a stipend,” she says.


  • Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA by Daderot CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
  • Central library of Vanderbilt University by Jbaker08 CC BY 2.0

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