By Adam Hoff, Amerasia Consulting Group
Today's blog post is about negotiating your offer of admission ... except that it's not. Because "negotiation" is not what you do when it comes to securing more financial aid from a business school. The term of art for what you are going to be doing is "asking." Let us explain. Obviously, any discussion of an offer in this context automatically means we're dealing with some good news: you've been accepted. So congrats on that! However, with the news that a b-school wants you to enroll comes the sobering reality that they also want you to *pay* for that privilege. Sure, offers often come with dollar signs attached, but the amount left in the "you" column is almost always going to be the bigger number. And that fact tends to bring up the following question: "How can I negotiate my offer?"
Again, let's rephrase the question entirely. Don't think of this as a negotiation, but rather a request: "How can I request more aid?" That is a much better frame of reference, especially in light of the the advice that follows. Here's how we typically approach this process:
1. Be respectful. There are a lot of ways you might be able to get a little more scholarship money from a business school, but we know of one sure way that you WON'T get money and that's if you try to "hardball" them. We have witnessed countless admits go from months of wishing and hoping to sudden arrogance and a "you better wine and dine me" attitude. Ditch it. Immediately. If you call an admissions office and try to leverage another offer or you give them the "so what can you do to sweeten the deal?" treatment, you will inevitably find yourself on the line with a tired and supremely annoyed member of that school's staff. Go in polite, grateful, and professional. Always. This is not an M&A deal and you are not "negotiating" with anyone. You are "asking" a business school to grant you more free funding. Big difference and on that is not lost on the schools themselves, we assure you.
2. Instead, go for the heartstrings. Okay, you have your hat in hand and you are determined to avoid acting entitled. Now what? Not to be too blunt about it, but in our experience, a good old sob story seems to work best. So if you have authentic hurdles - and most of us do - to paying over $100Kfor your MBA, share them. You don't have to impress anyone at this point with your huge salary or countless offers from heavy hitters; they've already decided they want you to attend their school. And they are far more likely to try to work something out if they find you nice, respectful, and, yes, a bit needy. A long-term career goal that eschews riches is probably best, but there are a lot of ways you can be honest about your situation and paint a very realistic picture as to how an extra $20K could make all the difference for you.
3. Never lie! If you don't have the "heartstrings" story, then don't go there. Of even greater importance is that you don't make up offers or dollar amounts from other programs. It damages the integrity of the financial aid process (which is designed to get money to those who deserve it and who need it most) and the school may ask to see proof in making a decision on revising your award.
4. Wait a beat. One of the keys to even getting yourself in the running for more aid is to wait a little bit so the dust can settle. Sure, on the one hand, the money could be gone and the class full and the school might have no incentive to sweeten the offer. I've heard people worry that if they wait, this scenario could result. And they are right - it totally could. But here's the dirty secret ... they alwaysspend all the money! When decisions go out, they throw out all the scholarship awards with them, hoping to entice and bring in the necessary yield. It is only when people start turning down offers - and scholarship awards - that the directors and staff start to see where there might be A) enrollment needs and B) financial aid surplus. In other words, if Booth gave you a $20K scholarship last week, don't call *this* week hoping for more. They won't have any more - at least not on paper. That spreadsheet is going to show every dollar spent. Wait for people to turn them down and for some of that paper money to flow back into the Booth coffers. Doing so will give you a better chance at there even being something to ask for, let alone get. Plus, while this isn't necessarily likely, if you wait, you might also catch a school getting shorted a bit on enrollment, in which case they will be far more likely to help you meet your needs. (Think of what is better for a program - going to the waitlist and thereby increasing their "admitted student" number in the process, or getting a 1-for-1 right off the existing list by spending a bit more money. It's a no-brainer.)
5. Follow up. If you talk to someone and they say they will get into it (most likely scenario other than "sorry" is "let me get back to you" ... "here's more money!" is a distant third), don't be afraid to follow up. The squeaky wheel can get the grease given that an admissions office is like a battlefield this time of year - it's not crazy that your request might land on someone's desk for a full week. In that time, hundreds of thousands of dollars might funnel back and forth on paper, leaving you in the cold. So wait a day or two and then call back to ask - respectfully, of course - if there has been any progress and if there is anything else you can or should do. As long as you are really nice and polite about it, no one is going to fault you for being angst-ridden about your financial future. And we should add here - since people seem to worry about it - you are not going to lose your offer by calling about this stuff.
We hope that these hints help you navigate that latest stress in this process. Remember that you catch more flies with honey, honesty in the best policy, and patience is a virtue. Armed with a few cliches, you'll do great.