Financing Your MBA Degree
| OnlineMBA.com Staff Updated on July 7, 2022
Are you ready to discover your MBA program?
Earning an MBA prepares graduates to pursue advanced positions and provides the knowledge and skills needed to start their own businesses. According to the Financial Times, the average MBA graduate nearly doubles their salary within three years of graduation.
Prospective MBA students should consider all potential costs before making a decision about their education. Tuition rates vary widely among business schools. Factors such as the student's enrollment status, the specific degree, and program format also impact cost. Tuition rates for MBA programs range from less than $15,000 to more than $100,000.
Prospective MBA students should consider all potential costs before making a decision about their education.
Tuition is not the only expense associated with earning an MBA. Students also pay school fees and purchase books and other course materials. Online students typically save money on room and board, which are significant costs for on-campus students, especially those attending schools in urban areas.
Prospective students should select a program that meets their academic and financial needs. Begin researching programs early, and review funding options including grants, scholarships, and tuition reimbursement programs. Beginning to save money as soon as possible can also reduce student loans for MBA students.
Financial Aid Offices
Financial aid offices provide information about ways of paying for your MBA. They guide students through the process of applying for federal and state aid and connect learners with scholarships, discounts, and reimbursement programs. Financial aid officers typically work with students who have already applied or been accepted to a program, but they may also advise students who are researching potential programs.
Working with a financial aid office allows students to create an individualized plan to pay for school. Financial aid officers can help students better understand the total cost of their education, depending on their unique circumstances. These officers can estimate how much financial aid support you need and can recommend scholarships and other aid programs based on your background.
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Investing in Your Education
Personal and Family Savings
Many students use personal and family savings to help finance their MBA. Using a 529 qualified tuition plan allows an individual, or members of their family, to contribute money to a savings account that will help pay for the student's education. Federal and state governments do not tax money deposited into these accounts. In some cases, governments or private organizations may even provide startup or matching funds to encourage individuals to save for postsecondary education.
These plans do have restrictions. While all states allow these funds to go toward tuition and fees, some states do not allow money from 529 plans to pay for room and board. Also, some of these accounts may charge enrollment or maintenance fees. Using money from one of these accounts for expenses unrelated to education can lead to significant tax penalties. Finally, 529 savings may affect eligibility for need-based financial aid.
Using Retirement Savings to Pay for Your MBA
Students can also use retirement savings to help finance their education. Normally, the IRS imposes a 10% penalty on withdrawals from a retirement savings account before the age of 59.5. However, individuals using the money to fund higher education may qualify for an exemption from this penalty.
Using retirement savings to fund your MBA does come with drawbacks. Most notably, borrowing money from your IRA or 401k will set back your retirement planning. Additionally, money in retirement accounts does not typically factor into a student's eligibility for federal financial aid. However, money withdrawn from one of these accounts becomes a part of the need calculation and may impact your eligibility for federal funding.
Because of the complex nature of using retirement savings to pay for an MBA, students considering this route should consult a financial adviser.
Free Money for Your MBA Program
States and private organizations award scholarships based on academic or athletic achievement, community service, and financial need. Because students do not need to pay back scholarships, they are one of the best ways to fund an education.
Students can apply for scholarships from a variety of sources. For example, some states award funding to high school seniors who graduate in the top 10% in their class. Many companies and community organizations offer funding to students pursuing a degree in a particular field, such as business or education.
Some groups award scholarships to members of historically marginalized groups, such as Native Americans. Others support students who face unique obstacles to higher education, such as students from low-income communities.
To increase your odds of securing a scholarship, identify programs with eligibility requirements aligning with your background. Options include geographically based scholarships and awards that support individuals with certain professional goals. Niche scholarships often provide smaller awards, but there is no limit to the number of scholarships for which you can apply.
Much like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid. While scholarships are usually awarded based on achievement, performance, or service, grants are typically offered to students who need financial support.
Generally, federal and state grants are only available to undergraduate students. The federal government restricts Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants to students who do not already hold a bachelor's degree. Many states place similar restrictions on grant funding.
However, some private organizations offer grants that can be applied to graduate education. For example, the American Association of University Women awards grants ranging from $2,000 to $12,000. These grants support women who are pursuing master's degrees to change fields or to reenter the workforce. Students must apply for private grants individually. MBA grants are rare; students are more likely to find MBA scholarships.
Fellowships and Assistantships
Fellowships are another source of free money for prospective MBA students. Most fellowships and assistantships are offered through individual schools and private organizations. Typically, recipient selection is based on a combination of academic merit and financial need.
Fellows receive a set amount of funding to apply toward tuition, fees, housing, textbooks, or any other education-related expense. Many fellows also use funding to conduct their own research. Most fellowships include minimal restrictions, though some require fellows to submit updates to the program's benefactors.
Assistantships more closely resemble work-study programs. Students receive a sum of money to spend on educational expenses. Unlike fellowships, assistantships often require students to work on campus. Students may need to teach or support a class for undergraduates or new graduate students. They may also work in a faculty member's lab or office; some work in the field on faculty research projects.
There is little downside to accepting a fellowship or assistantship, outside of the time commitment.
Employer Sponsorship and Reimbursement Programs
Many companies, especially those that recruit managers from within, offer education benefits to employees. These benefits may include scholarships for MBA students or tuition reimbursement programs that encourage employees to pursue further education and develop skills that are applicable to the workplace.
Most employer sponsorship and reimbursement programs require the employee to have worked at the organization for a set period of time. Others limit these opportunities to high-performing employees or individuals on a management or leadership track. Some programs require employees to submit an application explaining how the degree or training program will improve their job performance.
An increasing number of companies are recognizing the role of education support programs in attracting candidates, boosting retention rates, and improving employee morale. Many organizations now offer these benefits to employees at all levels.
Deloitte provides full tuition reimbursement for employees interested in pursuing an MBA. Eligible employees must have worked at the company for at least two years and must demonstrate consulting and leadership capabilities.
BOA reimburses up to $5,250 per year for an employee's tuition. Applicants must have worked at BOA for at least six months and must earn at least a B in all graduate-level courses to maintain eligibility.
Intel offers tuition reimbursement of up to $50,000 per degree, with no limit on the amount of reimbursement per calendar year. Employees must have worked at the company for at least one year.
AT&T reimburses tuition costs of up to $3,500 per year, with a cap of $25,000 for employees seeking a graduate degree. Employees must have worked at the company for at least one year.
Federal Student Aid Programs
The federal government offers a variety of programs to help students pay for their education. Prospective MBA student can apply for grants, loans, and work-study programs. Military veterans and active duty service members may qualify for additional benefits.
To receive federal support, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA requires demographic and financial information necessary to determine a student's eligibility for need-based aid, such as grants and Perkins loans, and other forms of federal aid, such as direct PLUS loans.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) provides step-by-step guidance for students and families filling out the FAFSA. The ED recommends that students complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, since funding is limited.
Federal Direct Loan Programs
The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is the largest federal student loan program. Through this program, the ED lends money directly to students pursuing postsecondary education. Prospective MBA students can apply for two kinds of federal direct loans: direct unsubsidized loans and direct PLUS loans.
Direct unsubsidized loans, also known as Stafford loans, are available to undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of financial need. Schools determine the amount of the loan based on the cost of attendance and the student's other forms of financial aid. Students must pay back both the principal and the interest on these loans, though students can defer interest while enrolled and during grace periods.
Direct PLUS loans are similar to direct unsubsidized loans, with three main differences. The government considers an applicant's credit history before offering direct PLUS loans. Direct PLUS loans typically have higher interest rates than direct unsubsidized loans. And there is no set limit on how much students can borrow through direct PLUS loans.
Private lenders may offer more favorable interest rates than the ED. However, federal loans feature fixed interest rates, and in some cases, the federal government forgives loans in exchange for public service.
Federal Perkins Loans
As opposed to direct loan programs, in which the ED acts as the lender, individual schools distribute Perkins loan money that they have received from the federal government. All undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with exceptional financial need are eligible for these loans.
Students pursuing an MBA can receive up to $8,000 per year in Perkins loans, or up to $60,000 in total. This total includes any Perkins loans received as an undergraduate student. Perkins loans feature a fixed interest rate of 5%, and students must pay back the loan within ten years. Students can defer payments while enrolled and up to nine months after they graduate from or leave a program.
Not all schools participate in the Perkins loan program, so make sure to check with your school's financial aid office to see if these loans are an option. Additionally, because of limited funds, not all students who qualify for Perkins loans will receive them.
Federal Work-Study Program
The Federal Work-Study Program places students with financial need in part-time jobs. Work-study placement is available to both undergraduate and graduate students.
The program matches students with jobs in civic education or in positions relevant to their course of study. Students typically work on campus, though some work with external nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Pay varies by position, but all students earn at least the federal minimum wage. Total hours worked and wages earned cannot exceed the student's total work-study award.
Students do not need to pay back money earned through a work-study program, but income from a work-study job may affect eligibility for other forms of federal aid. Additionally, not all schools participate in this program, and not all students who qualify receive a job. Apply early to improve your chances of finding a position.
School-Based Financial Aid
Some schools offer their own forms of financial aid. For example, Harvard College meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need for all four years. Because need-based financial aid programs administered by schools tend to target undergraduates, MBA students typically need support from fellowships, grants, and scholarships.
However, some schools offer discounted tuition rates to graduate students. Military veterans and active duty personnel, in particular, often qualify for reduced tuition or exemptions from certain fees. Contact your school's financial aid office to find out whether you are eligible for school-based aid.
Most states offer some form of financial aid to help students pay for their postsecondary education. For example, Texas awards a $2,000 scholarship to high school seniors who graduate in the top 10% of their class. Other states offer grants, scholarships, or forgivable loans to students pursuing a particular course of study, such as a STEM or teaching degree. A number of states provide aid to students who demonstrate financial need.
Most states use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state funding. Because deadlines for state aid programs vary, students should complete the FAFSA as early as possible. Some forms of aid, such as student loans, require applicants to complete entrance counseling to ensure they understand the terms of the award; recipients generally sign a master promissory note, a legal document in which they promise to repay the loan, accrued interest, and associated fees.
A few states require students to complete a state-specific financial aid application. Students can typically find a list of all state aid opportunities, as well as their requirements, on the state's education agency website. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a listing of all state agencies.
While many states restrict aid to residents, some also support transfer students. In addition, many states participate in regional exchange agreements that allow students to pay in-state or otherwise discounted tuition rates at public colleges and universities in neighboring states. These exchange agreements include the New England Regional Student Program, the Midwest Student Exchange Program, the Southern Regional Education Board's Academic Common Market, and the Western Regional Graduate Program.<
Post-9/11 GI Bill®
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, helps military veterans and active duty service members pay for their education. Students can use these benefits at a variety of postsecondary institutions, including graduate business schools. The government pays the full cost of tuition at public colleges and universities and up to $23,671.94 per academic year at private or foreign schools.
To be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must have served for at least 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001. Those who were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability after that date may also qualify. Eligible individuals receive up to three years of aid and must use these benefits within 15 years following the end of their active duty service.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays tuition and fees directly to the school. This differs from the previous form of veteran educational assistance, known as the Montgomery GI Bill; students paid for educational expenses out of a monthly allotment they received from the VA.
Veterans reviewing MBA financing options should also consider attending Yellow Ribbon Schools, which pay the difference between the maximum VA contribution and total tuition and fees. Additionally, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides a monthly housing allowance and a book and supply stipend.
Private Student Loan Options
Banks, credit unions, and other private companies also offer student loans for MBA programs. Rather than basing decisions on financial need or academic merit, private lenders consider the student's credit history and ability to pay back the loan and accrued interest.
Private student loans come in many varieties. Students can sometimes choose the length of the term over which they will pay back the loan, which range from five to 30 years. Students may also choose between a fixed or variable interest rate. Fixed rates, common in federal loans, do not change over the course of a loan's term. Variable interest rates, however, can increase or decrease throughout the loan period. Variable interest rates often begin lower than fixed rates, making them preferable for individuals who can pay off their loans more quickly.
Private loans may feature lower interest rates than federal and state student loans. However, private loans lack many of the benefits of federal loans, such as loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment, which allows individuals who work in less lucrative fields to pay back a smaller amount.
Financial Institution Loans
Many national banks and lending corporations offer student loans, but individuals often secure loans from their personal bank or a local credit union.
Credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives that serve communities, rather than simply maximizing profit. Credit unions may offer lower interest rates or work with applicants with below-average credit scores. Because credit unions are often local, they provide opportunities to speak with loan officers in person, which is rarely a possibility when working with a national lender.
Students who have taken out student loans from larger institutions can refinance with a smaller bank or credit union. Local institutions may offer lower interest rates, which can save a great deal of money in the long term.
Loans From Family and Friends
Rather than taking out loans from the government or private providers, some students ask family or friends for money to help pay for their graduate education. The main benefit to this approach is that family and friends are more likely to offer favorable interest rates, if they require interest at all.
However, taking money from a relative or friend can cause tension in a relationship. Before asking someone close to you for a loan, make sure you both have a clear understanding of exactly how and when you will pay back the money.
How to Pay for Your MBA
Saving and Retirement Plans
College savings plans provide individuals and families with a tax-free way to put aside money for postsecondary education. All states allow these funds to pay for tuition and fees, though some restrict spending on room and board. The government may assess taxes and additional penalties if the money is used for non-educational purposes.
Types of Saving and Retirement Plans:
- College 529 Plans
States and private organizations award scholarships based on merit or need, and students do not need to repay scholarship money. Students typically apply for scholarships separately from other forms of financial aid. Look for scholarships that match your background, experience, and future plans.
Types of Scholarships:
- Academic Scholarships
- Athletic Scholarships
- Private Scholarships
Students do not need to pay back grant money they receive for their education. MBA students can apply for state and private grants, but most federal grant programs restrict aid to those students who have yet to earn their bachelor's degree.
Types of Grants:
- Federal Pell Grants
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
MBA fellowships provide financial support to graduate students, usually without requiring them to contribute to a faculty member's teaching or research. MBA assistantships typically provide graduate students with a stipend in exchange for work supporting classroom instruction and academic research. Fellowships tend to be merit-based, and assistantships are typically need-based.
Types of Fellowships:
- Merit-Based Fellowships
- Need-Based Fellowships
- Summer Fellowships
To recruit and retain employees, companies may offer business school scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs. Typically, employees must have worked at the company for a set period of time before being eligible for these educational benefits. Some companies restrict these benefits to high performers.
Types of Employer Programs:
- Reimbursement Programs
- Sponsorship Programs
Many students use loans to help finance their education. Federal and state governments administer a variety of loan programs, though students can also seek out private lenders. Interest rates and payment schedules vary, but federal loans often have more favorable terms. Additionally, the federal government forgives some loans in exchange for public service.
Types of Loans:
- Private Loans
- Federal Loans
- State Loans
- School-Based Financial Aid
Work-study programs place students in part-time jobs to help them finance their education. Many students work on campus, though some work in positions outside their school. The pay rate varies depending on the job, and the total work-study award corresponds with each student's need.
Types of Work-Study:
- Federal Work-Study
- State Work-Study
- School-Based Work-Study
Military veterans and active duty service members have access to a variety of educational benefits. The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays the full cost of tuition and fees at public universities and covers more than $23,000 per year at private institutions. The program also provides a monthly housing allowance and supply stipend.
Types of Veterans Benefits:
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
- Montgomery GI Bill® – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
- Montgomery GI Bill® – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
- Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
- Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for your MBA, and the comprehensive database below will help you find the best financial aid opportunities for you. Here are five keys to a successful scholarship search:
Completing the FAFSA early is essential to qualifying for federal aid, and many organizations award scholarships on a rolling basis.
Find your niche
Many programs cater to particular groups, offering MBA scholarships for women or MBA minority scholarships. There are even online MBA scholarships specifically for distance learners. Applying for specialized scholarships can improve your chance of receiving an award.
Apply for small scholarships
At first glance, applying for a $500 may seem like a waste of time, especially if you plan to enroll in a more expensive MBA program. But every dollar counts, and receiving even small awards reduces student loan debt.
Save your application materials
Scholarship programs often have similar application requirements, such as transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation. Keep generic versions of these materials handy so you can easily apply for the next opportunity.
Know your scholarship requirements
After receiving an award, make sure to understand the scholarship program's requirements. For example, some programs require students to maintain a certain GPA to receive the full scholarship amount.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
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