How to Pay for Your MBA

It’s that time of year again…when applicants experience the euphoria of acceptance at the B-school of their dreams, only to be doused with the bracing reality that they’ve now got to come up with the money to pay for it. We’ve worked with clients who say they nearly fainted when they received their initial loan award notification. “I knew that would be coming but it was like looking at an employment offer!  I mean actually… [one] year’s tuition is definitely someone’s yearly salary!” one newly accepted MBA student remarked.

Tuition at the top programs can soar well over $100K, and then you’ve got to factor in other tangential academic and living expenses that will also set you back a pretty penny if you’re planning on earning your MBA degree in a metropolis such as New York, Boston or Los Angeles. You’re about to pony up for one of the most costly investments of your life at exactly the same moment you must bid adios to your (hopefully) substantial annual salary for up to two years. For many, that’s a sobering realization.

Finding the Money

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Even in strained economic times, American banks know that MBA graduates with a decent credit history are a sound investment when they start work. While scholarships and other types of “free” money are less available for MBA programs than the non-professional forms of graduate education, there are many resources available for a scholarship or fellowship that fits your background and needs.

The first stop is your target program. Many schools have comprehensive websites on the topic, including this prolific resource on outside funding from Harvard Business School. If you’ve already been admitted, your school will present you with a package of information about public and private loans and scholarships. The program may have access to loans or lines of credit for MBA students both domestic and international and will sometimes act as the guarantor for private loans.

For example, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has ensured that the Duke MBA loan program has always been accessible to international applicants on the same terms as it is for domestic [US] applicants. Duke University agreed to underwrite the loan – effectively acting as a co-signer – so that any student admitted to any of its MBA programs is automatically eligible for the loan program, which covers up to 100% of tuition.

Many admissions and financial aid offices say that financing will not keep the right student from coming to their program.

Depending on your career plans post-graduation, you may qualify for certain loan forgiveness programs. For example, Stanford Graduate School of Business supports MBA graduates entering the non-profit and public-service sectors and therefore has developed a loan forgiveness program to reduce the financial impact of GSB educational debt.

You may be considered for merit fellowships based on your academic credentials, accomplishments and experience that have already been communicated in your application. Some schools may also offer additional fellowships that you can apply for directly through the program. After you have searched your target schools’ websites for all available sources of funding, you may want to search general sites like FastWeb , Peterson’s and FinAid.

Applying for the Money

There are many different application processes for financial aid – from demonstrating need to demonstrating merit. Organize the deadlines and submission guidelines to make sure you have a plan to complete the applications, and carefully follow the directions of each scholarship, fellowship or loan for which you are applying.

If the program asks you to submit an essay, answer the question as thoroughly and succinctly as you would any other MBA essay. The value of fellowships/scholarships should be fairly straightforward, though you may emphasize either need or merit in your response, depending upon the direction you plan to take in the argument for your own application.

The need based direction may be difficult to prove without serious financial hardship. If you did face financial difficulties throughout your life and would not be able to attend business school without such assistance, you have a good argument. If not, you should pursue the merit-based option.

Providing evidence for the need-based direction of the argument should be fairly straightforward. Describe your situation and why you would have difficulty paying for your MBA education. Avoid any complaining or blame, and instead focus on what you have accomplished in your life with little resources and what you would continue to accomplish as you benefit from greater resources.

If you are going with a merit-based argument you should outline your accomplishments, both academic and professional. Sell yourself as you would in a job interview, and provide solid evidence for your accomplishments as you did in your application essays.

The impact of financial assistance may allow you to pursue activities such as travel and leadership opportunities. In addition, your receipt of aid may benefit the people around you. If you have been involved in your community or with charity, you can certainly describe the impact you have made on the lives of others thus far and how that impact will be even greater with a business education.

There’s definitely free money out there; it’s just a matter of tracking it down.

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