How to Pay for an MBA: Business School Funding Options

Free money is the best way to pay for an MBA, but you’ll likely need additional funding for business school costs.
Ryan Lane
By Ryan Lane 
Edited by Des Toups
How to Pay for an MBA: Business School Funding Options

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

The best way to pay for an MBA is free money, like fellowships and employer assistance. Ideally, you’ll also have money put aside for business school, or you can use some of your salary if you’re getting an MBA part time.

But free aid, savings and wages might not cover the cost of an MBA — especially at a top-tier school. The bill for such programs can be more than $200,000, according to Poets & Quants, a website that covers graduate business schools.

You can take out MBA student loans to fill a tuition gap. But before you borrow, use these strategies to pay for business school.

1. Find MBA fellowships, scholarships and grants

Fellowships, scholarships and grants are aid you don’t have to repay. Most fellowships and grants are awarded by business schools themselves, though private MBA scholarships from businesses or professional associations are available.

Unlike undergraduate scholarships, which may be based on your financial need, MBA fellowships and grants are usually awarded on merit alone. You may qualify based on criteria like your undergraduate GPA, GMAT score or any professional accomplishments you have.

A business school may automatically offer this aid upon your admittance — MIT Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, awards over 60 fellowships in this fashion, for example. In other schools, you may have to apply separately. Contact the business school’s financial aid office for details.

2. Use employer aid for business school

Money your employer provides or you earn by working can help you pay for an MBA. If you already have a job, reach out to human resources to see what education benefits the company offers, as well as its rules for that assistance.

Some employers — like the global consulting firm Deloitte — will pay for all or part of your MBA if you agree to return to the company for a set number of years after school. But companies that pay for an MBA are rare: A 2017 survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council found that less than 10% of full-time MBA students expected to receive employer sponsorship.

Even if your employer won’t sponsor your MBA, it may still assist you via tuition reimbursement. These programs typically offer up to $5,250 toward eligible education expenses, though amounts vary by employer. Because these are reimbursement programs, you have to cover costs upfront via a different means — like savings or loans.

Assistantship jobs can provide money toward tuition, as well as a monthly stipend. Business school assistantships may require helping school faculty with tasks like conducting research or grading papers. The number of assistantships a school offers is often limited. And unlike federal work-study, assistantships aren’t need-based — only high achieving students are typically hired. Contact your school’s employment office for details.

3. Tap into savings

Most students start MBA programs in their late 20s, after their careers have begun. That time working likely convinced you that getting an MBA would be worth it for your future. It also, hopefully, was when you saved some of your salary to cover the cost of the degree.

An ideal budget puts at least 20% of your money toward debt repayment and savings goals, such as paying for an MBA. If you haven’t been saving specifically for business school, don’t touch other savings — like for an emergency or retirement.

You may not have to pay an early withdrawal penalty if you tap into an IRA or 401(k) to pay for an MBA. But you'd have to pay taxes on that amount and would have less money for retirement in the future. Opt for student loans instead.

4. Take out business school student loans

MBA students can cover remaining costs with federal or private student loans. Federal loans are best if you plan to work for a nonprofit or aren’t sure about your career path.

But if you’re already employed or won’t need access to repayment programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness, shop around for a private business school loan. Here’s why:

  • Federal interest rates and fees are higher for grad students. Unsubsidized federal loans come with higher interest rates for graduate students (6.54%) than undergrads (4.99%). Interest rates on federal graduate PLUS loans are 7.54%. These rates are effective July 1 for the 2022-23 academic year. Unsubsidized loans come with an origination fee of roughly 1%, but that fee is four times higher for PLUS loans. Most private lenders don’t charge origination fees.

  • Your work history is likely an advantage. All federal loan borrowers receive the same interest rates. Private loans determine rates based on your financial situation. If you’ve worked for a few years before getting an MBA and have built up your credit, you may qualify for a lower interest rate than federal student loans offer. You could also save more by opting for a variable rate, if you plan to pay loans off fast or are confident you could afford payments if that rate rises.

  • All graduate student loans accrue interest. Graduate students aren’t eligible for federal subsidized loans. The government pays the interest on subsidized loans at certain points, like when you’re enrolled in school at least half-time. Because only unsubsidized loans are available for graduate students, you won’t receive the potential interest savings from federal loans that undergrads do.

Use a student loan calculator to determine how much loans will cost you to pay for an MBA. For comparison, business school graduates owe roughly $66,000 in MBA student debt, including undergraduate loans, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

If you decide federal loans make sense for you now, but your plans change in the future, you can refinance MBA loans after school to potentially save money.

Frequently asked questions

Executive MBA programs are for seasoned professionals; the average student has been in a management position for close to nine years, according to the Executive MBA Council. These students work full-time while attending school in a modular fashion, like every other Friday and Saturday.

Sponsorship is more likely for executive MBA students — 40% expect to receive this kind of funding. Those who don’t receive a sponsorship can use the same types of aid available to other MBA students. Even though executive MBAs don’t follow a traditional class schedule, they still meet the half-time enrollment requirement to qualify for federal student loans.

International students can use many of the same methods to pay for an MBA — except for federal student aid. This is available only to U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens.

International MBA students may be able to take out private student loans, if they have an eligible co-signer or have established credit history on their own. Otherwise, they’ll have to look for a niche lender that works with international students.

Spot your saving opportunities
See your spending breakdown to show your top spending trends and where you can cut back.