9 Steps to Beat B-School Application Anxiety

For many business school students, the stress begins way before the school year starts—thanks to the notoriously daunting application process. These months are packed to the brim with research on programs, prepping for the GMAT, writing and rewriting essays, practicing for interviews, and lots and lots of waiting. So, how do you keep your cool when the anxiety rises to a boil?

1) Trust Research, Not Rumors

Rather than believing rumors you hear about impossible application expectations, research the facts and go from there. Referencing program websites for class profile statistics and talking to program representatives or even your college career center staff can help you determine what to expect and how to plan for it.

2) Flaunt What You’ve Got

At this point, you know what you have to offer, and lamenting the fact that you don’t have the same 20 years of experience as the next guy will not help you. Starting the application process early can help combat weaknesses. If your GMAT score was low, retake it. If your GPA was subpar, develop experience that reflects your true abilities. Portray your qualifications—whatever they are—in the best possible light, and accept that you can’t change what’s out of your control.

3) Combat Physical Stress

Nervousness, fear, exhaustion, irritation, and distractibility—though normal—will all compromise your ability to complete applications and balance them with other obligations. Physical exercise can help you blow off steam, yoga can help you relax, and spending time outdoors can improve your mood. Find an outlet that works for you and stick with it.

4) Take Care of Yourself

This is related to the previous point, but it’s more fundamental. Your mind can’t perform unless your body can, so make sure you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, eating 3 healthy meals a day, and taking breaks when you feel overwhelmed. Try cutting out alcohol, too—nights of drinking can spoil valuable days of productivity.

5) Submit Confidently

When you have completed and reviewed your materials and are prepared to submit your application, just submit it! Rereading things so many times that text starts blurring together can lead you to make erroneous revisions and edit things without end, preventing you from moving on to other applications. Don’t obsess over that one sentence in your personal statement—this is, after all, just an application, and the details that are driving you crazy now are marginal in the bigger picture. And, though it’s certainly best to submit a polished application, there are humans at the other end of the process who are usually willing to switch out materials if you discover you made a significant mistake.

6) Don’t Play Compare and Contrast

After submitting, avoid learning about other applicants’ outcomes, and check discussion boards such as Clear Admit sparingly. No amount of checking how others did is going to change—or produce—a decision in your inbox (which, by the way, you should also limit checking).

7) Redirect Your Productivity

After operating in high gear for so many months, waiting to hear back from schools can make you restless and give your anxiety room to flourish. Rein it in by focusing on other things that will advance your business career. Polish your LinkedIn profile and find volunteering or other opportunities related to your career goals. Also consider refreshing your business clothing wardrobe; this will prepare you not only for b-school events and future interview opportunities, but also for potential b-school interviews!

8) Do You

It may sound cliché, but it’s crucial that you keep doing things that make you happy and not lose yourself in this process. Spend time with loved ones. Get out of the house on weekends. Paint, hike, play sports—whatever your hobby is, don’t cut it out of your life. Engaging with the world outside of b-school apps can ground you and keep things in perspective.

9) Resilience is Key

As you start hearing back from schools, don’t lose heart if things don’t go the way you had hoped. Maintain a realistic view of your possibilities, give fair consideration to schools that may not have been your first choice, and, if it turns out that attending b-school is not an option (or the best one) this year, don’t worry! You’ve just gained another year to build your resume and a stronger application for next year. Allow yourself to cry and have some ice cream, and then research a strategic Plan B rather than lose momentum.

The business school application process is demanding, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Other applicants are going through it, too, and you have the support of family, friends, and Ready4 along the way. When all is said and done, it will have been a worthwhile rite of passage. So, take a deep breath and give it all you’ve got!

6 Common B-School Interview Questions (and how to answer them)

Your b-school applications are in. You just checked your inbox and received the coveted invitation to interview at your top choice b-school! Congratulations! While this isn’t the same as an offer of acceptance, it indicates that the school wants to pursue the admissions process with you. They’re interested!

Once the initial excitement about reaching this stage has worn off, it’s time to start thinking about the interview. Interviews typically last about a half hour and may be conducted on-campus, off-campus (in person), or via Skype. Whatever the venue is for the interview, take time to prepare. This will go a long way toward helping you succeed in the interview. It will also help allay any anxiety you may have about it.

You likely won’t be surprised by the interviewer’s questions. The questions are fairly typical across the board. They aren’t designed to trick you or catch you off guard. Rather, the goal is to get to you know you on a personal level, aside from the information you’ve presented in your application. The interview is a great way for the school to get a complete picture of you. Think of this as a terrific opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates.

To get some tips about what to expect from an interview at a particular school, start with the school’s website. Often, there’s excellent information pertaining to the interview process – who will be conducting the interview, how long it will be, etc. Some schools will even list specific questions that might be asked.

Speaking of lists – here are 6 typical b-school interview questions and some advice on how to answer them.

1. Why do you want an MBA?

If you’ve come this far in the admissions process of an MBA program, then hopefully you know why you want an MBA! Discuss how an MBA will help you attain your career goals. Be sure to address not only “why?” but also “why now?”

2. What are your career goals?

Include both short term and long term goals. Short term goals are easier to address. Make sure the goals are realistic and attainable. Long term goals may be more difficult to articulate. Think this through and if there is a specific element to the b-school that will help you reach your goal, be sure to address that here. You can review your application essay to find inspiration that will help you formulate your answer.

3. Tell me something about yourself.

This open-ended question can be the toughest type to answer effectively. Remember, your goal is to show the interviewer that you’re a great candidate for their MBA program. Be brief–speak no more than 3 minutes. Focus on things like the reason you chose your major in college, your successes at work, or personal accomplishments outside of work. Don’t just recite your resume – they’ve already seen it!

4. Discuss your accomplishments as a leader.

You can be pretty confident that the topic of leadership is going to come up in your conversation. Make sure you have several specific examples from both the workplace and other areas where you’ve demonstrated leadership skills. Describe how you motivated others to reach their goals.

5. Why are you interested in our MBA program?

The way you answer this question is very important. Make sure you do your research on the specific program and can articulate what attracted you to it. Don’t answer with generalities that could easily be applied to many b-schools. What makes their b-school unique and appealing to you? How does the program align with your career goals?

6. What questions do you have for me?

Be prepared to use the last five minutes or so to ask your own questions about the program. It’s possible that the questions you want to ask were already answered during the first 25 minutes of the interview, so make sure you have several questions lined up in case some no longer apply. Don’t ask questions you can easily find the answers to on the school’s website. Do your homework and come in with well thought out questions that can distinguish you from other applicants.

In general, don’t sound too rehearsed. Stay on topic and be succinct in your responses. You don’t want to accidentally find yourself on a tangent that has nothing to do with the question! Soojin Kwon, the Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross, suggests, “Answer the questions that are asked. This will differentiate the scripted interviewees from those who aren’t. It’ll also demonstrate listening and thinking skills.”

Ultimately, think of the interview as a way for the admissions committee to get to know you better and vice versa. This is your moment to let your personality shine through.

The MBA Application Timeline: Thinking Ahead to Be Ahead

Today’s post comes from Ivy MBA Consulting. Ivy MBA Consulting is a leading admissions consulting firm that offers comprehensive, personalized, strategic consulting services, focused on getting clients accepted into the leading MBA programs in the world. Ivy was established by graduates of some of the world’s top MBA programs – people who were in your shoes not long ago. Ivy MBA Consulting is currently the only MBA consulting company in the world whose success rate is examined by Deloitte.

There are a lot of things to get together and organize when you decide to apply for an MBA program. One of the most important things to remember is to not save everything for the final hour. As great as it would be to not have to prolong the headache of applications, thinking that it is possible to do everything well in a matter of weeks is nothing short of fantasy.

If you know the MBA is where you’re headed, you should start prepping your career and tailoring your experience well before you start writing your essays. Years before you plan to apply (at least two years, to be exact) you should ask yourself “what is my growth trajectory at my current job?” Ask yourself if you are showing development. Ask yourself if you’re on track for promotion if you haven’t already received one. If not, see what big projects you can take on and what initiatives you can push to show that you’re a mover and a shaker.

If, by chance, you know that you are interested in changing careers, it’s important to try to get a related job in the related field a couple years before. It’s much harder to make a case for acceptance in a field in which you have no experience.

This is the phase that you should think of “experience building.” It will bolster your case as to why you will make a great MBA candidate and will also show why you’ve reached a point in your career where an MBA is actually beneficial and not simply convenient.

The “experience building” phase is also a good time to start looking at volunteer projects or activities that are outside the workspace. MBA programs like to see candidates who aren’t only involved in their work, but also in the community. If you didn’t start doing so in college, then start now.

Ideally, you want to already have built up your experiences, professional and personal, by the time you begin the application process. MBA programs rarely like to see last minute scrambling in attempts to pad or beef up a resume.

The year before you are planning to apply is a good time to begin preparing for the GMAT. The last thing you want on your mind when you’re writing essays and completing your applications is the GMAT. So finish it well before schools release their essays. Also, take into consideration that many people have to take the exam several times – so you want to leave yourself enough space to take the test as many times as you need without the stress of deadlines weighing heavily on your shoulders. By the way, if you need to take any language proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, this is also the time to do so.

The year before applications is also a good time to start researching programs, connecting with current students, and perhaps reaching out to alumni. A huge part of the application process is demonstrating student connections. The more you nurture the connections, the more you can leverage them in your application. So start early, and don’t forget to check-in with those you’ve reached out to. You don’t want to connect a year before applications are due, and then reach out one more time the day before deadline.

Come January of the year you’re applying, you should start researching consulting agencies to help you with your applications. Make sure you find consultants that will both help you build a career strategy and guide you in your path toward quality, genuine, and effective essays that not only demonstrate what you have accomplished, but also convey your character in a creative way. You will be working very closely with your consultants – so make sure that in your conversations you feel like you are getting the unique attention you deserve. No slogans allowed.

Come June, you should already be in conversation with your MBA advisor. This is a good time to rekindle networking ties you began to make the year before if you’ve left them untouched. The upcoming months will be your time to work intensively on your applications, ensuring – through many iterations – that each document is ready for final submission in the fall.

Most of the deadlines for the first round of applications are in September; if you start work in June, you wont meet the September crunch that many candidates face. Remember, a rushed application runs a much higher risk of missing out on the opportunity to do you justice. The MBA process starts way before the year of application – do yourself a favor, and start planning early.

How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting Merit Aid from B-Schools

What do Yale, Rice, and UCLA all have in common? They all offer generous merit aid to accepted business school students. Note that I said “offer”—merit aid, as the name suggests, is earned for achievement. This sort of funding can help make an MBA more affordable if your hard work has qualified you for merit aid or if you believe your (or your family’s) income is too high to receive need-based financial aid.

With the best MBA programs competing aggressively to attract the strongest applicants, schools are capitalizing on a fact that both students and schools will easily acknowledge: money talks. Poets & Quants estimates that $220 million in scholarships is awarded annually by the top 25 MBA programs. Though Harvard Business School easily tops the list with its $31.5 million scholarship fund, public and private schools across the spectrum are flaunting lavish awards that cover up to the full cost of tuition (or more commonly, a quarter of the cost). With MBA price tags sometimes reaching upward of $200,000, you want to tap into all the financial resources available to you. But, how do you make yourself a strong contender for merit aid?

#1 Some Things Never Change

No matter which program you attend, merit aid (if it’s offered) will typically be awarded based on the same over-arching factors. This is great to know so you can begin planning early. Generally, educational achievement, life accomplishments, competitiveness, and other indicators of merit will be considered. This can mean flaunting high GMAT scores (750+) or an exceptional GPA (3.6+). It can also mean earning an impressive undergraduate degree (from a distinguished undergraduate business program and/or with multiple rigorous majors) or belonging to prestigious professional societies (such as Beta Gamma Sigma). Applicants who have been out of school for some time can also build outstanding work experience on their resumes—and it doesn’t need to involve working for a Fortune 500 firm. Often, a leadership role at a lesser-known company or successful completion of a demanding project can demonstrate the degree of ambition business schools are looking for.

Hint: In a large pool of highly qualified applicants, you should set yourself apart in some way. Invest time and effort into at least one thing that will make admission committees remember you and distinguish you from equally competitive peers. Start a small organization or a club, for example, or engage in pro-bono work that aligns with your long-term goals. Schools love to see that you are passionate about your business subfield.

#2 Research the Qualifications

If programs offer merit-based aid, they will typically list on their websites what factors they consider when evaluating applicants for scholarships. Assess how you measure up—and if you’re still early in the process (i.e., still an undergraduate), figure out how you can strengthen these factors before you apply. At UChicago’s Booth School of Business (known for its generous funding), educational achievement, intended concentration, quality of interview, competitiveness, life experiences, and professional goals are all considered.

Hint: Typically, your graduate school application will also serve as your application for merit aid. However, you should double-check with programs’ financial aid offices well ahead of deadlines to make sure you don’t need to submit separate applications and aren’t missing potential scholarship opportunities.

#3 Leverage Your Options

Being a big fish in a small pond can have its advantages—so apply to schools where you’d be one of the top candidates. Schools are eager to raise the average GMAT score and GPA statistics of their class profile, and if your numbers can help with that, they will likely try to attract you with greater merit aid than they offer your lower-scoring peers.

#4 Negotiate for More

Lastly, once you have your offers in hand, don’t be scared to negotiate funding if your top choice school is offering you less merit aid than other comparable schools. They might refuse (Harvard and Stanford claim to not negotiate, for example), but you can’t know unless you ask. If they agree, you can maximize your chances of walking away with the best possible funding offer as well as the opportunity to attend the best school for you. However, to increase the chance that your negotiations will be fruitful, you’ll want to present yourself as a competitive applicant from the start by strengthening the factors listed above in #3. Make yourself a candidate that schools can’t pass up.

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and it doesn’t get any easier in business school! The good news is that you can at least ease your financial burden. Seek not only merit aid, but also need-based aid, fellowships, and external funding whenever possible. The investment of time and effort pursuing funding now will pay off—literally.

Why Student Loans Might be a Good Investment for Your MBA

The results are in. You’ve been accepted to your top choice business school! Hurray! You’ve also received a decent scholarship and can contribute a good amount of savings to your degree. But, the numbers don’t lie. Your resources fall short – very short – of where they need to be in order to completely finance your MBA. The big question: should you take out a student loan to cover the remaining costs?

Every individual’s situation is different. There are no easy answers but consider the following points as you determine whether or not a student loan, and hence an MBA, is a good investment for you.

1) Your b-school can make all the difference.

An MBA from a top tier school like Harvard will carry a lot more weight in the eyes of hiring managers than an MBA from an unranked school on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Business School list. When determining whether or not you should take out a large loan for your MBA, research expected salaries for recent alumni of your school. A top tier school can make a big impact when job hunting, but the price tag for such a degree can be a lot steeper. Weigh these factors to determine if a student loan makes sense for you.

2) Your field of concentration after graduation is huge.

The typical MBA program focuses on teaching general business skills like marketing, finance, statistics, accounting and operations. If you anticipate going into a management position in finance or consulting, then an MBA can be a great value for you. On the other hand, if you want to become part of a tech startup, the CEO may not be looking for someone with a traditional business background. Not only that, the base salary at a startup will likely be lower than at Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs. More specialized industries may not appreciate an MBA as much as you might think. Salaries can vary wildly depending on your career goals. Before taking on the heavy debt burden of an MBA, make sure you research the skill set needed for your particular career path. An MBA may not be the best option for you.

3) Calculate your need.

With tuition costs increasing each year and salaries not keeping pace, the average amount of debt an MBA student takes on can be alarming. Take a glimpse at the b-schools with the highest average student loan debt, according to US News & World Report:

List of MBA Cost

Shocking, right? As you can see, the average MBA indebtedness is in the 6 figure range for 8 schools on the list.

Suppose you’ve been accepted to Tuck, a top tier b-school. The program comes with a high price tag. You estimate that you’ll make $148,000 per year after graduation, based on average salaries of last year’s graduates. You received scholarships and have some savings so you’ll need a loan of about $110,000. Common Bond, a private lender that offers graduate school loans for a selection of 29 top-ranked MBA programs, provides useful student loan calculators. The calculator pulls information directly from your school of choice, assuming it is among the 29 eligible b-schools. The following screenshot was taken from Common Bond’s calculator, using Tuck’s data.

MBA Tuition Cost

Financial Summary

The nice thing about Common Bond’s calculator is that it does nearly all the work! Notice the monthly loan repayment is $1,328. That’s a lot of money, but the debt to income ratio is 11.67%. The federal government considers a debt to income ratio of 20% manageable, though the median debt to income ratio for MBAs is about 30%. If you go through a budget based on a reasonable prediction of your annual earnings post-MBA, you might find this debt to be pretty manageable, making the MBA a good investment. If you have undergraduate debt or a mortgage, you’ll need to consider those as well.


4) Determine the ROI (Return on Investment) of your MBA.

Look no further than GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) to help you figure out the ROI. To calculate your ROI, find your school’s data and sit down with the numbers. GMAC has a handy slideshow to help you determine the ROI. GMAC looks at three time periods to calculate the ROI – 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation.


Some final words.

It’s worth noting that MBAs aren’t as rare as they used to be. In the United States alone, there are 470 accredited schools with MBA programs. The Economist reports, “Nearly 200,000 students from American institutions have been awarded Master’s degrees in business every year since 2010.” Keep this in mind as you determine whether or not a loan is a good investment.

That said, GMAC’s 2014 Alumni Perspectives Survey Report finds that “The vast majority of alumni (83%) from the classes of 1959 through 2013 report that their graduate management degrees were essential for obtaining employment; 94 percent rate their graduate management education as offering good to outstanding value compared to its total monetary cost.” Don’t discount the value of an MBA! It can be well worth the cost even if you run into debt for a short period of time after school.

3 Steps to Get Your Boss to Pay for Your MBA

An MBA is pricy—but what if you could get your boss to shoulder the cost? It’s no longer unusual for employers to invest in their employees’ education. You are a human resource of the company, and in the long run, investing in resources provides returns. Of course, this doesn’t make approaching the conversation any less daunting. In short, if you want your boss to pay for your MBA, you will need to demonstrate how it’ll help the company. To do this, you’ll need to 1) test the waters, 2) do your research, and 3) make your case.

#1 Test the Waters

Understand how your company typically handles employee education so you know what to expect. Find out whether or not your company has policies established for professional development and employee education. Perhaps some of your colleagues have already cashed in on this benefit; if so, ask them how they went about it.

Also, gauge the company’s attitude toward professional degrees. Does the company value candidates (or employees) with MBAs? Do your coworkers—especially those in your position—have MBAs? If you are the odd one out, you might argue that you need to “catch up.” If most of your colleagues do not have MBAs, you might show how earning one could introduce a whole new set of skills to the team for everyone to benefit and learn from. Whatever the situation, find a way to spin it in your favor.

Finally, make sure your request is practical. If the company is cutting costs because of poor sales, or if they need you working on certain projects right now, it may be unwise and even inconsiderate to bring up the MBA. Moreover, you’ll probably see more success if you hold off until more funds or time open up. If full tuition reimbursement isn’t available, ask if they will reimburse a portion of the cost or pay for specific classes.

#2 Do Your Research

Once you’ve determined that your boss may hear you out, figure out how you’ll channel the benefits of the MBA back to your company. This can take many forms depending on your role, the track of your MBA, and your company’s needs, but no matter what, one thing is for sure: you must prove that the degree will help you do whatever you are already doing significantly better. Research prospective programs that will maximize success in your specific position (or, in some cases, one that you’d be promoted into), and take thorough notes on program offerings and coursework related to your role.

Hint: you can ask coworkers who have MBAs about how their business education has helped them in their current roles; this way, you can cite real-life, accessible case studies for your boss.

#3 Make Your Case

Figure out who you will present your case to. Is this a department-level decision (typical at bigger companies)? Or, will you need to schedule time to talk with an executive (typical for smaller companies)? Allot ample time for the meeting, because inevitably, your boss will have many follow-up questions and concerns, and you want to address them thoughtfully.

Come prepared! You must show that you’re making a well-informed request that will ultimately benefit the company’s bottom line. Establish your credibility by drawing on what you’ve already contributed to the company, and outline a written proposal on the deliverables that the MBA will enable you to achieve going forward. A unique way to do this could be by creating a post-MBA resume, which will include all your new qualifications, and presenting it to your boss alongside your current resume. This will not only show your boss what qualifications are currently lacking, but will also drive home the point that your boss can avoid hiring someone else for them and invest in you to close the value gap.

If you’re a CIO, for example, outline what you’ve done to increase company revenue using technology (numbers are key, and data presentations help). Then, estimate how much more you can help the company’s bottom line using cutting-edge technologies you will master in business school. Whenever possible, cite specific projects and desired outcomes of your company and tie them back to specific methodologies, technologies, and skills you will learn in prospective programs. Of course, if you haven’t yet made much of an impact in your role (perhaps you recently started), it’ll be harder to make a promising case, but you can begin delivering now and make your request later, credentials in hand.

Furthering your education broadens your horizons both personally and professionally—if it can bring value to your company, too, it’s definitely worth a shot to ask for help funding it.

8 Simple Ways to Spend Your Summer Before Your MBA

Congrats! You’ve been accepted to an MBA Program for the fall. Woohoo! Once you’ve finished celebrating this amazing accomplishment – and it is amazing – it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming summer. Yes, one last summer to enjoy life before it takes on the pace of the high speed car chase in Casino Royale. What are you going to do with these precious two or three months before you start business school?

Assuming you’ve left your job and have a few months off, here are 8 ways to make the most of this last summer.

1. Sharpen your skills.

Perhaps you graduated from college six years ago. Maybe you haven’t taken a class since senior year. It would be wise to fine tune your academic skills, especially those where your skills may fall short. Don’t stress though! Your b-school already demonstrated their faith in your abilities by accepting you into their program. It isn’t time to second guess your decision or theirs. That said, if you come from a liberal arts background, you might benefit from enhancing your math skills a bit or taking an online accounting class. Or, if your GMAT verbal score wasn’t as high as your quant score, consider taking an English class.

2. Update your resumé and your LinkedIn profile.


Once school starts, you won’t have as much time to do things like updating your resumé . When you’re in b-school, you’ll likely make lots of connections. Make sure your resumé and LinkedIn profile up to date. That way, when you meet a new business associate at a Friday night bowling event, you can quickly and easily connect with him or her. You shouldn’t spend precious time updating your profile before reaching out.

3. Connect and Reconnect.

Summer is the perfect time to connect with your friends from the past as well as former business associates. Not only is it fun to reconnect with friends and colleagues, it also can’t hurt to start networking now. If you have a good idea of what area of business you wish to concentrate on once your MBA is in hand, having a vast array of friends and colleagues will be a tremendous asset.

4. Make those appointments you’ve been putting off.

Haven’t been to the dentist in over a year? Now’s the time to get that cleaning you’ve been postponing. Doctors’ appointments are more difficult to make and keep once b-school kicks into full gear. Need a physical? Go now so you won’t have to during the academic year. Your near-future self will be relieved that these things are out of the way.

5. Travel.


Likely, you’ve just completed a few years of full-time employment. You already know how difficult it is to take time off for travel. It’s rare to have a few months of unscheduled time to do whatever you want. Take advantage of this! While you also have to consider your wallet, especially with an expensive two years ahead, if you can afford to travel, you should. Even if your budget isn’t as high as you would like, be creative! Do you have a college friend living in Brussels who wouldn’t mind a week-long visit, or even a month-long visit? Perhaps you can volunteer overseas in which case some costs will be covered. Is business school on the opposite coast? Take a month and drive cross country making your way through Yellowstone, the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon.

6. Read.

Take the extra time this summer to read Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist. Not only will you stay on top of current business news, but you’ll also feel more at ease discussing these topics in the classroom come fall. Once the school year begins, you’re going to be inundated with everything from the latest business trends to terrific business opportunities. You won’t have as much time to kick back with the latest business publications.

Books at the Beach

7. Read some more.

This may be the last time in the foreseeable future you can choose what you read. Leisure reading in the summer on the beach is a luxury. What could be more rejuvenating for the soul? Read whatever you like, from the latest Liane Moriarty bestseller to Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?

8. Relax.

Rest. Enjoy life. This can’t be overstated. You’re probably used to the fast pace of a full-time professional and you’re about to take on the hectic pace of an MBA student. Take some time to do whatever you need to recharge. Hike. Hang out at the pool. Binge watch the latest season of Scandal or Better Call Saul. When pondering summer plans, remember there’s no right or wrong path. You just don’t want to look back on the summer with the sentiment “I should have….” Start business school with no regrets!

Refinancing Your Student Loans

Attending business school is a major financial decision—one that has implications for all your finances, including your undergraduate student loans. While you can, of course, continue making undergraduate loan payments while in business school, it might strain you if your b-school tuition, living expenses, and/or personal expenses (perhaps you have a family) are maxing out your resources. If your undergrad loans are federal loans, you can typically opt for in-school deferment if you return to school as at least a half-time student (see studentaid.ed.gov for more information). But, if the interest buildup during deferment would be unaffordable, if your loans were private and do not qualify for deferment, or if you simply want to continue making progress on your undergrad loans while in school, you may consider refinancing them to reduce your interest rate or make monthly payments more affordable.

What is Refinancing and How Do I Do It?

In short, refinancing means replacing your existing loan (federal or private) with a new loan (typically private) and swapping all the terms and conditions of your old loan for those of the new. While refinancing can produce long-term savings for certain borrowers, it can also involve forfeiting options exclusive to your current loan—so proceed carefully. You should apply to different lenders and compare all your options to decide which one will most benefit your specific situation. Some popular choices are SoFi, CollegeAve, LendKey, Credible, and Earnest, but choosing a refinancing company is all about fit. Typically, banks will examine your credit score, degree, savings, and income to determine estimates (or even if you qualify to refinance with them), but you can also enlist a cosigner if these factors raise concerns. Requesting estimates from different banks within a short time period (e.g., within a 2-week period) will hardly affect your credit score, so don’t be afraid to access as many estimates as possible. The long-term impact of this decision will make the planning worthwhile.

What Should I Consider When Refinancing?

Behind the initial appeal of saving money lies the fact that refinancing can bring a whole new set of terms and conditions, repayment plan, and quality of customer service. If you are refinancing a federal loan into a private one, for example, you may be giving up forbearance, deferment, income-based repayment, and certain forgiveness options. Of course, you might not need these right now, but you may down the road in cases of unemployment or other unexpected hardships. Also, don’t overlook the fine print considerations on the new loans. In the case of an untimely death, would your cosigner become responsible for your student loan debt? Would you be penalized for paying off your loans early? Moreover, pay attention to the lender’s treatment of you—the customer. After all, this is a transaction, and you should be valued in return for your business. Is the lender willing to provide deferments should you ever need them? Are customer service representatives accessible and responsive?

How Do I Know Whether I Should Refinance?

If your primary motivation for refinancing is financial (which is typically the case), you should also make sure you’ve explored other possibilities for getting your current loan under control before converting it into a new one. As mentioned, in-school deferment is an option—and a promising one if your income post-graduation will be ample relative to your loan amount or if most of your loans are federal and subsidized (these do not accrue interest while you are enrolled in school). Also, find out whether you qualify for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness plans.

If, for example, you are pursuing an MBA to prepare for nonprofit or volunteer work and are anticipating a low (or no) salary, you may qualify for the income-based repayment plan for federal loans. On this plan, you can make affordable monthly payments and eventually have the remaining balance forgiven. You may also consider the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which enables nonprofit-employed borrowers to have loans forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments (insider tip: you can combine this with the income-based repayment plan to make 10 years of low payments, depending on your income). Even just enrolling in auto-pay services can earn you an interest deduction with several lenders. Contact your current lender(s) and evaluate what options you have for financial relief and/or payment and interest deductions so you can make an informed decision.

Ultimately, you may find that refinancing is—all things considered—the wisest option for you. If so, great! Just make sure that the benefits outweigh the costs, that you are making an informed decision, and that you’ve considered all your options. While the loans may seem daunting now, education is a worthwhile investment—and it most certainly will pay off!

Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Scholarships for Your MBA Program

You’re applying to business school. It’s an exciting prospect, for sure. But the costs can be daunting! Whether you’re just beginning the process or are putting the finishing touches on your b-school applications, you’ll need to buckle down and figure out the finances. The price tag for an MBA is enormous. The financial aid office at Harvard estimates that a single person in their MBA program will pay approximately $102,000 this year for tuition and living expenses. Yikes!

Hopefully you have given this considerable thought and have a general idea of how you’re going to pay for your degree. Before you commit to a loan with a ten-year repayment plan, make sure you’re tapping into all your resources: personal savings, parental support, employer sponsorship, earnings from your current job, spousal or partner support and scholarships. Of these, scholarships tend to be overlooked. Students often assume that scholarships – which are often called fellowships at the graduate level – are more readily available for undergraduate education. It turns out there are actually lots of scholarship opportunities for MBA students. Don’t miss out on this huge source of funding!

How do I apply?

Good news! Most b-schools don’t require a separate application for internal scholarships, making the scholarship process pretty painless. B-schools base the bulk of their scholarship decisions on the admission applications alone, and generally use the same criteria as those used for acceptance. At Wharton, all admitted students are considered for Wharton Fellowships. Award decisions are based on academic achievement, leadership skills, and professional development.

Sometimes, there are special scholarships that require additional materials from you. Are you in the military? Many schools such as Georgetown University and Duke University are members of militarymba.net. Eligible students can receive $20,000 through the program, but a separate application is required. If you’re a woman, you can apply for a Forte Fellow Scholarship at participating business schools – fellowships range from $10,000 to full tuition. To be considered, you need to submit an essay describing your qualifications.

What about need-based scholarships?

Most scholarships are merit-based, with some exceptions. Notably, Harvard and Stanford offer need-based fellowships. Harvard Business School (HBS) fellowships are offered solely on financial need. According to Harvard’s website, “Nearly 50% of the class receives an average of approximately $37,000 per year in need-based HBS Fellowship.” Stanford has many opportunities for need-based fellowships as well. As expected, Harvard and Stanford require some type of financial aid application before doling out the awards.

How much scholarship money is available?

It depends on the school of course. But, you may be surprised at the size of the scholarship pool. Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business states “More than 60 percent of our MBA students receive fellowships or graduate assistantships.” The awards can vary greatly – in the case of Mendoza, the awards range from $5,000 to $40,000. Georgetown University has $1.5 million available for merit-based scholarships. Boston University Questrom School of Business says that for students who entered their MBA program in the fall of 2016, “almost 90% received scholarship assistance with the average award exceeding half tuition each year.” Be assured – there is plenty of money out there! You just need to know where to find it.

Are there outside scholarships available?

You betcha! There are many opportunities for scholarships outside universities’ offerings, but you have to look for them. Start with the universities’ websites. They’ll often include information about external scholarships. Just know that the process won’t be as automated as it is with internal scholarships. You’ll likely have to complete a separate scholarship application.

There are fellowships that are geared toward specific populations, such as women, veterans, or minority students. Some awards are very specific. Bowdoin College offers the George and Mary Knox Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to Bowdoin graduates enrolled at Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, or Harvard Medical School. Are you from Spain? The Eduarda Justo Foundation is a scholarship program for top notch MBA students.

Believe it or not, there are search engines devoted to finding scholarship money. Here are a few to try: petersons.com and finaid.org.

Apply early.

Be sure you don’t miss out on a scholarship opportunity by missing a deadline. Schools recommend that you apply early. Scholarships are often handed out in Round 1 and Round 2, and the competition is fierce. Waiting too long can cost you. You don’t want the unwelcome surprise of finding out that the deadline was yesterday.

Know the details.

Many scholarships are renewable, though not always automatically. It’s fairly common that you’ll have to maintain a certain grade point average in order to keep your scholarship for another year. Be sure you’re aware of all the requirements for the scholarship.

And finally…

Unlike loans, scholarships and fellowships don’t need to be paid back! It’s free money! You’d be unwise to overlook this huge source of income. Securing scholarship money will go a long way toward helping you put the financial pieces in place as you embark on your business school adventure.

The Most Competitive Business Schools to Get Into

As business school becomes more popular for domestic and international students, the number of applications submitted to U.S. MBA programs continues to increase. Due to the increase in applicants, acceptance rates have dropped because the number of open spots at these schools remain the same. Find out which schools have the lowest acceptance rates, making them the most competitive business schools in the United States. Are any of these on your dream school list?

Ranking School Acceptance Rate Average GMAT
1 Stanford University 6.1% 733
2 Harvard University 10.7% 725
3 University of California — Berkeley (Haas) 13% 715
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 14.6% 716
5 University of Florida (Hough) 15.8% 681
6 Penn State University — University Park (Smeal) 17.1% 636
7 University of California — Davis 17.8% 683
8 Columbia University 18% 715
9 University of California — Los Angeles (Anderson) 19.8% 713
10 University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 19.8% 732

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