Minimizing the Financial Challenge by Maximizing Assistance for Students
There’s no question that the time and money spent earning an MBA is an investment. But while most potential MBA candidates are well-aware of the value in the abstract, they still struggle with how to manage the upfront costs of that investment.
Those of us in the financial assistance world know that we wear many hats: financial advisor, advocate; cheerleader, and sometimes even therapist. In all of those roles, we’re aware that job #1 is to help students through this challenge and help them access a world-class business education.
In order to help as many students as possible to obtain financial assistance and attend my school, Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management, we endeavor to stay focused on three guiding principles:
1. Provide the widest range of financial aid opportunities to align with students’ personal circumstances.
Some prospective students may have saved for their graduate education for years while others manage their cost of attendance in real-time. But most need some financial assistance. There’s a famous proverb in South Africa: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is now.” In this spirit, our goal is to ensure that cost is not a barrier to higher education by providing them with options.
As a private institution, we offer generous grants and scholarships based on merit and the endowed scholarship guidelines. We alsopursue every opportunity for prospective students to access these scholarships aggressively. For working professionals, we encourage them to ask their employer about tuition reimbursement programs. And for others, we seek employment opportunities that help them to manage their tuition over time.
2. Be transparent at the onset.
Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for a scholarship. After those opportunities have been fully explored, we turn to other options such as subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and alternative (private) loans. But we stay focused on the big picture, not just an immediate solution. Entering graduate school can feel like a larger than life choice, and it’s our responsibility to help students consider both near-term – such as ensuring there are financial resources in case of an emergency – and the long-term, helping them understand their own personal financial comfort zone and how much can be taken on financially now, knowing the payoff will be down the road. Poor counseling can jeopardize this by downplaying or minimizing the responsibility of loan debt. We pride ourselves on operating with transparency and honesty, so students are never surprised when payment obligations begin.
In addition to ensuring that our financial services team approves all published information related to student loans and scholarships, our staff of program advisors regularly monitors students' records and keeps them closely apprised of their status, minimum standards for academic progress, and other relevant policies and requirements. Beyond the basic federal requirement for entrance loan counseling for first-time borrowers, we offer one-on-one counseling to all students on an ongoing basis. That’s one of the reasons why we report one of the lowest student loan default rate (1.9%) among schools nationwide.
3. Be an early advocate and remain an ally throughout students’ education.
While we are very careful to practice consistency in financial aid decisions and avoid any arbitrariness, we also endeavor to leverage our position as a private school to advocate awards for prospective students. When students have weighed their options and made decisions about financing their education, we don’t consider it “case closed.” We engage in multiple touch points throughout the students’ time at the school to ensure that we are responsive to special circumstances, such as student miscalculation or changes of personal circumstances – even, in cases of international students, when the value of foreign currency fluctuates.
Finally, as a school that prides itself on developing values-centered leaders, we encourage our graduates to reach back and lend a hand to future students through our alumni network. We are always conscious that future students will reap what we can sow today, and that our interaction with prospective students will be reflected in years to come. With more than 38,000 alumni across the globe, our alumni network works to not only cultivate a spirit of community, but also actively support the Graziadio Business School’s scholarship pool in order to strengthen future students for lives for purpose, service, and leadership.
About the Author
Melissa Mikolajczak is executive director, Marketing and Communications, Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management.