Our guest on February 6, 2001, was Pamela Black-Colton, assistant dean for MBA admissions and administration for the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business in Rochester, N.Y. (No. 21 BusinessWeek's 2000 Top 30 B-School List). Before returning in 1997 to Simon, where she earned her MBA, Black-Colton was director of research services at Manning & Napier Advisors. She was also business-planning manager at Frontier Cellular and manager at the Bank of New England. She was interviewed by Lucia Quartararo for BusinessWeek Online. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation:
Q: Pamela, what financial assistance does Simon offer its MBA candidates?
A: First-year students [are eligible for] merit-based financial aid. Some of [the awards] are general school scholarships and others are need-based. [Scholarships] vary in amount from 20% to 100% of the [$26,460] tuition. [Those who receive 100% of tuition] are Dean's Scholars, and they're limited to a maximum of 10 people per year. [Dean's Scholars are] specially selected students who are outstanding in every way. Scholarships follow students through the second year of their education, assuming that they get a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA in the first year of the program.
We do offer [teacher] assistantships, but only to second-year students, because first-year students need to focus on their schoolwork. Assistantships are given as merit for good performance in the first year of the program. Generally, the top 10% to 15% of the class is offered an assistantship, and that's on top of any scholarship aid that they [may have already received]. Assistantships [can include anything] from helping teaching assistants with a lab, doing research with a faculty member, or grading for a class.
Q: How does an applicant apply for merit-based aid, and does applying for aid affect one's chances for admission?
A: There is a portion of our application that asks, "Are you interested in being considered for merit-based aid?" If the [applicant] checks "yes" then they're automatically considered. If [the box is not checked,] we don't consider [the candidate] for aid.
Oftentimes, [applicants] don't check the box because they think that it will affect their admission opportunities. And then they later say, "I need financial aid." Checking "yes" does not affect in any way whether or not we admit [a candidate].
The chances of a student getting money are greater earlier in the [application] process, so if we're looking at an application in January, [and the candidate has indicated he or she is] not interested in financial aid, we don't offer any. If an applicant comes back to us in March, the chances of receiving money are not as good, because funds will have diminished. However, almost 60% of our students do receive some amount of merit-based financial aid. Our [roughly 300] part-time students are not eligible for institutional funding, but there is funding available to them in the form of loans.
Q: Are there funds earmarked specifically for underrepresented students, such as minorities or women?
A: We participate in the Consortium for Graduate Study & Management, which is an award program for U.S. domestic minority candidates -- that is, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. [Candidates can] apply to up to six consortium schools using the consortium application. Those people are then considered for [admission and a] consortium fellowship, which is an opportunity for 100% tuition remission.
Q: Tuition for the 2000-01 school year at Simon was $26,460. How much should a prospective student budget for total costs?
A: Our total estimated budget includes living expenses, tuition, rent, food, and personal expenses. The total budget for the full-time 2000-01 academic year is $42,600.
Q: Federal aid is a way for domestic students to meet a typical MBA budget. How and when should prospective students apply?
A: Domestic students or permanent residents who apply to the University of Rochester and are interested in being considered for federal loans should fill out a FAFSA form. [After notification of admission], the financial-aid office will send out information about the scholarships that [admits may have received]. We then calculate admits' eligibility for loans. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the students are eligible for funding the remainder of their total cost of education with loans, starting with the federal loan program. If necessary, our financial-aid office will package the [remaining cost] using the best alternative loans.
Q: Which private lenders does the school suggest for alternative loans?
A: Instead of the students having to shop around themselves for alternative loans, we do that for them and package it so that all students need to do is come to the financial-aid office, sign their promissory note, and the money is theirs. Our financial-aid office meets with the alternative loan providers and [considers] the various options. We then recommend to students the most advantageous loan program. In this way, we're a one-stop shop. We try to make it as easy as we can.
Q: At 50%, Simon has the highest percentage of international students in BusinessWeek's 2000 Top 30 B-School List. How does this constituency fare in terms of funding an MBA?
A: International students are only eligible for loans if they have either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident as a co-signer. We certainly consider international students for merit-based scholarships.
Other than that, we have a number of students who come through other kinds of programs, like the Fulbright, the Muskie Fellowship, and Rotary Foundation Scholarships. Some international students are company-sponsored. Other students fund the program through loans in their home country or through family savings.
Q: With half of Simon's student population from outside of the U.S., are any programs designated to help foreign students get settled in Rochester?
A: Our International Student Office helps get students acclimated to Rochester. We have a relationship with the Rochester Friendship Council, which is an organization that matches up people in the community with incoming students. There is somebody to pick them up at the airport when they first come to town and help them get settled, or someone to invite them for dinner. They're a great resource, and they're extremely helpful.
Q: Does Simon offer university housing, and if not, is local housing affordable?
A: There is university housing. There are high-rise buildings that are probably more suitable for single students. We also have a wonderful campus area that's wooded and has great playgrounds that students with spouses and children especially like.
It's not hard to find an apartment in Rochester. [Admits can] come in for a weekend and be pretty sure that they're going to find an apartment in that time, without any broker's fees. An average one-bedroom apartment [goes for] $500 to $550 per month. [It's possible for] students to live without a car in Rochester, and use the bus instead. Our costs are much less than in a major city. Plus, at Rochester, you're going to be in a safe neighborhood.
Q: At Simon, the average student is 29 years old. A lot of students arrive on campus with partners or spouses. Does Simon provide any benefits to all of these students with families?
A: They [bring] kids, too! We have a Simon Partners Organization, which is involved with Simon's orientation program during pre-term. We're cognizant of the need to make the trailing family comfortable. Our International Student Office also hosts language training for spouses. The two school districts in the area that surround the university are very adept and comfortable at dealing with students for whom English is not their first language.
Q: What are the financial-aid deadlines that prospective students should be aware of?
A: Sept. 15 and Feb. 1 are priority deadlines for consideration for financial aid. The next deadline is Apr. 1, and the last one is June 1. Our first priority is to give financial aid to the people who applied earlier in the process. Although, after five years of going through this process, we always have money available for strong candidates.
Q: Do two years of lost income and Simon's median loan debt of $30,000 deter prospective candidates from pursuing an MBA?
A: Students look at [the price of an MBA] as an investment in human capital. Getting an MBA is going to allow a [prospective] student to take a quantum leap in their career, and therefore a quantum leap in their salary and bonus. Most students realize that the investment they make in an education is going to have a very quick payback.
Q: Applying for funding and loans can be daunting. What's the best way to contact your office if problems arise?
A: We try to be as accessible as possible, and that's why we spend a lot of time on the road helping students understand what to expect from their business school experience at Simon. We have an e-mail address [email@example.com], and we try to get back to students as quickly as possible.
[In the spring,] we invite [admits] to come to campus, sit in on a class, have a tour of our facility, and meet students. [We want admits to] have the opportunity to experience Simon. In fact, this year we are having an invitation-only Experience Simon weekend for [selected] admitted students to spend a weekend here and get to know about Simon.
We also participate in GMAC MBA Forums in the U.S., as well as in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. [We invite prospective students to] talk with us at these forums. We also interview and hold receptions in selected cities around the U.S.
Q: As tuition and cost of living continue to increase, will Simon be able to grow its scholarship treasury in order to grant more aid to students?
A: As tuition increases, we have a similar increase in our scholarship money. Our scholarship money isn't flat -- it grows in the same proportion that the tuition increases. Because we give our scholarships in increments of tuition remission, 20% last year is obviously going to be less than 20% this year. But we do try to make sure that the scholarship is keeping pace with the cost of tuition.
Q: Have you heard much feedback from first-year, second-semester students about their experiences?
A: Students here learn a tremendous amount and find it very exciting. But the big challenge that most people find is managing their time so that they can get the most out of the academic experience and also enjoy the presentations -- on top of having a social life. Many of our students are balancing not only school but a family as well. Simon is very collegial and has a strong sense of community. Because we're a small program, people get to know one another and the faculty. We don't have an undergraduate business program here, so all of the resources are focused on our MBAs. That has real dividends for our students.