Our guest on February 6, 2001, was Julia Min, director of MBA student services for New York University's Stern School of Business (No. 13 on BusinessWeek's 2000 Top 30 B-schools list). Min received her MA in international education, with a concentration in higher-education administration at NYU. Prior to joining Stern in 1996, she taught English in Japan, and worked in Washington, D.C., as the coordinator of the Japan Exchange & Teaching Program (JET) at the Japanese embassy. Min currently oversees several functions, including financial aid, student advising, international programs, and student activities. She was interviewed by Lucia Quartararo for BusinessWeek Online. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:
Q: Julia, Stern tuition for the 2000-01 academic year was $29,956, and a student's total budget was $51,029. What are the first steps an MBA candidate should take to assure that he or she can afford this tremendous investment?
A:One of the first things we recommend to people is to be aware of deadlines. Stern's deadline for merit-based scholarships is Dec. 1, the same time that the admission application is due. Anyone who wishes to be considered for a merit-based scholarship needs to have his or her application in by then.
Starting Jan. 1, [U.S. applicants] can also apply for the FAFSA, which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. For domestic students, the Federal Student Aid is a big draw because [applicants] can get a low interest rate. You can fill out this form regardless of whether you hear back from any business schools, because it gets you in the pipeline for going through whatever checks that the federal government requires.
Q: How should prospective MBAs position themselves to get one of Stern's highly sought after merit-based scholarships?
A:We look at the merit of the admission application to get a good picture of who the applicant is. We interview almost all of the admitted students, so we have a good idea of their interpersonal skills. We also look at letters of recommendation, past academic performance, and potential in management and leadership. We expect people who have performed well in the past will want to give back to the community.
Q: Are international students eligible for merit-based scholarships at Stern?
A:Absolutely. We like to award students based on the merit of their application, regardless of their citizenship. We look for diversity in our classes, and [having international students enrolled] adds to that mission.
Q: Last year, Stern enrolled 840 full-time students. What percentage of an incoming class can expect to receive merit-based funding and what is the range of those awards?
A:We give about 36% of our entering class merit-based scholarships. For the entering class of 2000, [the figures] ranged from $5,000 to full tuition. It really depends on the pool that we have, but last year, 10% of the scholarship recipients received full scholarships.
Q: In order to continue to attract top-quality applicants, is Stern looking to grow its pool of merit-based funding?
A:Of course. We see merit-based scholarships as one of the many items -- [such as] space, facilities, or faculty [salaries] -- that need funding.
Also, a significant percentage of incoming students, about 80%, get full financial-aid packages. So there's definitely help available, whether it's scholarship based or financial-aid based loans.
Q: How can prospective Stern MBAs make up the difference between what they might receive as a merit-based scholarship, the cost of living in New York, and tuition?
A:For domestic students, definitely with federal loans. We've also been able to leverage a private loan specifically for NYU with Sallie-Mae Chase. We've negotiated better rates for our students as well as [improved] customer service. The loan is called NYU Chase Signature Loan. There's a complete list of private lenders on our Web site.
Q: Does Stern offer a foreign-friendly loan program designated to help international students who aren't eligible for federal funding?
A:Yes, we're really fortunate because NYU has the biggest international business student population. As such, we have a great relationship with lenders, and one of the first lenders who decided to open up an international loan program was Citibank, through the CitiAssist Global Loan. They started a pilot program with NYU. [International applicants] are able to apply for a loan without a U.S. co-signer. It has been quite revolutionary for [non-U.S. MBAs], who now have the power to get a loan, when they need it, if they need it.
Q: Are there teaching assistantships available for students interested in working part-time while enrolled at Stern?
A:Stern has teaching fellowships and graduate assistantships, where students work in administrative offices. They're usually reserved for second-year students, however. [These positions] are allocated by semester, and mostly for the core courses. In return for one semester of work, students receive partial tuition reimbursement.
We do discourage our first-year students from doing [a fellowship or assistantship] because the transition to student life [from a job] can be a surprising one, and we want students to concentrate on their summer-internship process. Also, second-year students have more to add as a teaching fellow, because they're not only talking about the courses, but also about the entire Stern experience.
Q: Cost of living can be problematic for everyone in New York City, not just grad students. Does Stern have university housing available for incoming students?
A:NYU does offer graduate on-campus housing. This fall , we're opening a building [that is being built] right where the Palladium used to be. It will have a number of floors dedicated to Stern students. There will be great amenities, like an indoor pool and a café. We have a commitment for over 100 rooms for graduate students. We also include a lot of information about housing in our admitted-student packets to help [admits] navigate the process.
Q: What are some of the opportunities for underrepresented applicants to secure funding at Stern?
A:The Consortium of Graduate Study in Management is a network of schools that offer fellowships. We work with this consortium to pick consortium fellows who are fully funded for two years while they're here. [The program] winds up being a great networking tool for students during and after business school.
And for the fall of 2001, we are engaged in another kind of a fellowship called the Toigo Foundation. The Toigo Foundation works with minority students attending top MBA programs, mostly within the finance industry. We anticipate three fellows this year. Each fellow receives $20,000, funded by Toigo and the participating institution.
Q: The average Stern MBA is 27 years old. With the average age of MBAs increasing at many B-schools, more come to campus married. How does marital status affect financial-aid eligibility?
A:It does not affect [an applicant's] ability for securing loans. The federal regulation states that you must apply as a student. But the tax information that you submit [whether you're filing jointly, etc.] will have an effect on the amount of money you can get as a federal loan. When we look at the student budget, we look at the student's cost of attendance.
Q: What financial aid is available to the nearly 2,000 part-time MBA students at Stern?
A:Part-time students are eligible to apply for federal and private loans which our office will [recommend] if they meet certain federal criteria [e.g., if they enroll for at least six credits per semester]. In addition, they are eligible to secure teaching-fellow or graduate-assistant positions. [Also,] part-time students are working professionals and may be funded by an employer tuition assistance program, so we only offer scholarships to full-time students.
Q: Is there a network at Stern to help spouses or partners find jobs in New York?
A:With so many job opportunities in New York, that hasn't been a huge issue for us. We do have a student group called the Stern Partner's Group that all students and their partners are welcome to join. It offers a social network and sponsors events such as wine tasting. Our NYU Office of International Students & Scholars also provides a network for doing cultural things. In terms of little perks, partners can get [discounted] rates for things like the fitness center and the library.
Q: Making such a big investment can be a complicated process. What's the best way for an admit to get help from your office along the way?
A:[The process] is very daunting because there so many players. You have the federal government giving the permission, then you work with the school to set you up with the loans, then you work with the state, which secures the loans, and finally, you work directly with the lenders. One of our primary roles is to walk [incoming students] through the process. If students are educated at the front end, then they're set for the two years that they're here, and they can breeze through the process in their second year, because they'll have to reapply if they need further funding.
For instance, we include informational literature with our [financial-aid] package letter. There's [also] an e-mail address [firstname.lastname@example.org] that [students can submit questions to], and of course, there's always the [financial-aid section of the] Web site, and our office on campus.
Q: What are some common pitfalls that you've witnessed in your years in the financial-aid arena? What things should applicants make sure to avoid?
A:Not filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] early enough is probably one of the biggest pitfalls. It takes about four to six weeks for the federal government to process this form. It's best to apply in January, just to make sure you get the process in place. [Applicants] should know they don't have to wait until they're admitted to process this form.
The other thing to be aware of when applying for private loans is credit-card debt and credit history. Loan approval is based on the credit history or sometimes credit limits.
Business-school students are very savvy about their financing as they go through this process. Our office is here to facilitate any questions that they have about processing or federal aid, because these things can be cumbersome. But generally, things really go smoothly.