Paying for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can involve paying between $50,000 and $200,000+, the approximate low and high end of total tuition and fees for an advanced business degree. Even more funds may be necessary when living expenses and course materials, are considered.
Daunting? Yes, but don’t be discouraged by the high price tag. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, those with an MBA earn on average $20,000 more starting salary than grads with a only bachelor’s degree in business. Five years after graduation, MBA degree holders tend to earn between $90,000 and $120,000 per year. These numbers are even higher for graduates from more selective schools.
In order to reap the rewards, one of the first big business decisions MBA seekers need to make is how to pay for it all. So, let’s take a closer look at the best way to piece it together.
7 Ways to Pay for an MBA
1. Find Free MBA Money
Funding an MBA starts by hunting down fellowships, scholarships, and grants, which usually don’t have to be repaid.
This kind of “free” money tends to be awarded to MBA students according to performance rather than financial need, so qualifications are often tied to GPAs, GMAT scores, and professional accomplishments. Even if you think you may not qualify, it is worth exploring. According to Poets and Quants, an online publisher covering MBA programs, scholarship offers for business school have increased by 30% over the last three years with awards topping out at $200,000.
This money tends to come from either the school or outside business and professional associations. Each have their own application and selection process with different requirements. For example, all students accepted to Columbia Business School are considered for the school’s merit aid, and educational institutions participating in the prestigious Forte Fellow automatically consider all eligible applicants. However, students interested in the Riordan MBA Fellow at UCLA have to submit a separate application.
Ask about applications and qualifications for fellows, grants, and scholarships while searching for schools and consider applying to schools that have programs you think you may qualify for.
2. Use Employer Funding for MBAs
The skills learned by getting an MBA may benefit your current workplace, so employees in good standing could be in the position to receive funding from their employers.
There are two types of employer funding aspiring MBAs may get:
- Tuition Reimbursement
- Employee Sponsorship
Tuition Reimbursement is the most common type of employee-based aid for MBA students. It is when an employer reimburses an employee for educational expenses. So, you’ll still have to find a way to cover tuition and other expenses for school upfront. Each employer will have their own set of requirements to be reimbursed, such as time employed, GPA requirements or coursework must be relevant so be sure to ask.
Employee sponsorships, when an employer agrees to pay for some or all of the MBA up front, are less common. Usually they are offered only if the employee agrees to certain terms, such as remaining at the company for a set number of years.
According to U.S. News and Report, MBA funding from employers tends to be found in highly competitive, fast-growth industries such as technology and healthcare, and often come from consulting firms or large corporations. Ask Human Resources or look through the employee handbook to see if your company has a program.
3. Apply for Federal Financial Aid
Financial aid to pay for an MBA is available from the federal government through the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA).
There are up to four types of aid MBA students can get:
- Federal and State Grants
- Federal Work Study
- Unsubsidized Direct Loans
- Direct PLUS Loans
The FAFSA holds the keys to need-based aid such as grants or federal work study, which provides part time work, usually in a job related to your MBA, through the school.
Unsubsidized Direct Loans are available to all graduate and undergraduates alike, although students earning advanced degrees qualify for higher amounts – up to $20,500 per year. It comes with a low fixed rate determined yearly by congress that stays the same for the life of the loan, and it has federal repayment options like income-based repayment.
If additional funds are needed, a Direct Grad PLUS Loan can be taken out to bridge the gap. Direct Grad PLUS Loans have a fixed interest rate, but is typically a higher rate than Direct Loans, and require the applicant have no adverse marks on their credit history.
Applications for the FAFSA open every October for the following school year and remains open for 18 months.
4. Take Out a Private Student Loan
Private student loans, which come from private lenders such as a bank or credit union, are designed to help students fill a funding gap after exhausting other financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.
Private loans can cover up to 100% of the school’s cost of attendance. They come with either fixed or variable rates, which are set by each individual lender based on the applicant’s credit and financial history. While fixed rates stay the same for the life of the loan, variable rates may fluctuate with the market.
MBA seekers with a good financial record, or who apply with a cosigner who has strong credit, may qualify for rates that are competitive with Federal Direct PLUS loans, so it’s a good idea to compare both rates.
Private lenders also have their own repayment terms. Look for lenders with multiple repayment options to give you more flexibility to balance the total cost of the loan and find a monthly payment that fits your budget.
Learn more about private MBA student loan options.
5. Get an MBA Assistantship
An assistantship for MBA students involves devoting a set number of hours to supporting school faculty in research and administrative duties in return for money to cover tuition. Unlike Federal Work Study, which is federal aid awarded based on need, graduate assistantships are given to high-performing students. However, each school has its own qualifications so be sure to ask.
6. Use Your Savings
Dollars left in a 529 account, which are usually set up to help pay for an undergraduate education, can be used to pay for an MBA without a tax penalty.
Using savings to pay for an MBA can help reduce future debt, but mining too much swipes money from your safety net which can cause other financial problems down the line. It’s a matter of finding a balance that works for you, so before depleting any savings, weigh in your ability to repay loans and how much savings may be needed in an emergency.
7. Go Part Time to Get an MBA
Going part time to get an MBA will take longer to earn that income-increasing degree, but it can ease some of the immediate financial burden related to covering costs.
With less credits taken, tuition bills will be lower and by spreading out credits over time, a schedule can be created that allows you to keep an income-earning job. This way you can cover some of the costs out of pocket, borrow less, and also spend a worthwhile amount of time on schoolwork.
To Pay for an MBA: Plan Ahead
Pulling together all necessary funds is not easy or quick. It takes research, dedication, and lucky for you, business acumen.
To get money that doesn’t need to be repaid, focus on submitting stellar applications for school and applying to programs that match your qualifications and goals. Work, school, business associations, and the federal government may all have options.
Then, consider using savings, whether to attend full or part time, or taking out loans. Play around with a graduate student loan calculator to figure out rates and terms really look like and start mapping out a repayment strategy.
Done right, you can walk away with an MBA degree that earns you more money and helps you pay off any loans quickly.