Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

How Felipe Penna Won an MBA Scholarship

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

How Felipe Penna Won an MBA Scholarship

Article excerpt

Financing an MBA is no easy task. The University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign MBA program costs $20,000 a year for tuition for in-state students and $30,000 for international students or $40,000 to $60,000 for both years. Room and board, books and living expense add about $20,000 annually to the charges. Many students need to take out sizable loans to pay for their MBA, and repaying that debt can affect their career decisions.

Brazilian-born Felipe Penna, who is 29 years old and worked in Brazil for five years as a consultant at Deloitte, the largest of the four major global accounting firms, avoided considerable debt by earning a two-year scholarship based on a business case competition at the University of Illinois' MBA program.

In the annual Scholarship Case Competition, prospective students must present the best possible solutions to real-world case studies or business problems. The competition launched in 2011 at the University of Illinois, but is a common practice in many MBA programs. Most competitions are team-based, but the University of Illinois' centers on individual competitors. The first-place winner receives a two-year, tuition-only scholarship to the Illinois MBA program; the second-place winner receives a one-year tuition scholarship; and third prize is a $10,000 scholarship.

The scholarship was introduced because the program wanted to attract "students who excelled. Our program is based on case analysis," explained Brian Precious, its director of admissions, recruiting and alumni relations. Success in the program "is less about going to a textbook and more about looking at a business or nonprofit that is facing a difficult decision and determining what to do," he said. Winners of the competition "can analyze a business case, present recommendations in a convincing manner and offer logical answers to tough questions," Precious noted.

"We wanted students to practice case studies before they even attend school. You're going to do a lot of case analysis; it prepares students for working in larger companies or opening their own business," Precious said. Students who excel in the critical analysis will likely succeed in marketing, sales, finance or other jobs.

Students who compete must have applied to the program. Depending on when they've applied, some students will know they've been accepted, and some will not. Precious says if students incomplete applications look promising, they might be invited to participate in the Scholarship Case Competition before they know of their admission status. Hence, nearly all students competing are accepted into the program, though Precious notes if a student performs extremely poorly at the competition it could adversely affect admission status.

In 2011, Penna decided to pursue an MBA to strengthen his credentials, expand his knowledge and enable him to secure a better job. He was familiar with the University of Illinois campus because he spent his sophomore year in high school in Champaign, 111., living with his sister, who attended graduate school there.

Penna considered applying for an MBA program in Asia, where the economy was booming, but decided that the United States education system and its MBA programs were stronger. He started investigating MBA programs, considered the University of Illinois, and saw online that it offered a case study competition and free tuition to the winner. As a Deloitte consultant, Penna was experienced at analyzing business problems and finding solutions so he figured he had the know-how and expertise to compete for the scholarship.

Penna applied to the University of Illinois's MBA program, supplied grades and GMAT scores and was accepted into it. After he was accepted, he started looking into competing in the business case competition. The competition had three levels, and the winner has to succeed at each round and then come out on top. After the initial competition, 10 MBA students are selected for the second round; and then three, for the final round. …

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