Whether you do or don’t receive a scholarship to help with the cost of your MBA, here are some financing recommendations to consider well in advance of starting the admissions process:

Don’t start applying to programs under the assumption that you will receive a scholarship. You should know how much the programs you are looking at cost and how you would pay for the degree without scholarships. If you do wind up receiving an award, that’s money back in your pocket that you weren’t expecting, which is exponentially better than shelling out money you didn’t plan to part with. It’s also not a good use of your time or money to pay hundreds of dollars on application fees only to decide you can’t afford the program to which you have been admitted.

Run the ROI

Look closely at the cost of attendance and include all expenses:

  • Tuition
  • Program fees – These can be upward of a $1,000 per semester, you may be able to find more concrete numbers on the financial aid, bursar, or registrar sections of a school’s website
  • Cost of living – This will depend on your lifestyle, habits, and where you are looking to study
  • Books and materials – Plan to spend at least a few hundred per semester
  • Potential global study or MBA-related travel you might take advantage of – These travel and program fees can really add up depending on where and how often you travel; you will find that this is probably something you want to do once you start your MBA as this is an oft quoted pivotal experience for many MBAs

Future salary post-MBA. Many schools publish the average graduate starting salary by industry, which is more accurate than a general average, so use the industry specific salary in your calculations. For example, a starting salary in Finance or Consulting will likely be quite different than one in Nonprofit.

Foregone earnings while in the MBA program. I.E. the salary you won’t make while you are a full-time student and not working.

Interest you expect to pay on loans both during school and after you graduate. Congress did away with deferred interest for graduate students in 2012 and they also upped the interest rates on student loans, so be sure to account for interest you’ll accrue during enrollment and after you complete your program.

Here are more specific instructions for making these calculations. To get a general idea of the numbers you could be looking at, check out this debt to starting salary chart from top business schools. The average starting salary for graduates across all MBA programs is about $90,000, but this varies widely by school and region. Cost of attendance will vary as well. It’s cheaper to go to school in Atlanta, Georgia than in New York City, in large part because the cost of living is much lower.

Target institutions with merit-based aid

If you want a good shot at a significant institutional or merit-based scholarship, you may need to change your admissions strategy to target schools that award scholarships and where you would be an exceptional candidate compared to the typical class profile. Most schools award scholarships at the time of admission and will have a question on the application asking if you’d like to be considered for scholarships. You might also consider applying to public universities in the state in which you are a resident, which likely provide an in-state discount.

Look for on-campus employment

Once enrolled, check out on-campus jobs like working as a TA or in an administrative office; you could earn around $5,000 each semester by working part-time. Keep in mind that this may be easier said than done, given the rigorous schedule you must balance while an MBA student. But on-campus jobs do offer the potential to chip away at that overall bill.

Don’t forget summer opportunities

Summer internships can be very helpful. You might get lucky and land a decently paid summer internship, but this is hard to predict unless you know exactly the industry and type of company where you’d like to intern. Paid internships are more plentiful in finance, consulting, tech, and corporate positions than start-ups or the social sector.

Sarah DeGraaf
Having earned her MBA from NYU Stern, Sarah served as an MBA admissions officer for nearly a decade at NYU. She has a deep knowledge of top-ranked MBA programs and what’s required of applicants who hope to earn admission.