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The Cost of an MBA Program

How Much Does an MBA Cost?

Enrolling in an MBA program is an enormous investment. Top business schools charge upward of $100,000 for a two-year, full-time program. This means that you quit working and focus all your time, energy, and savings on your education. The return on investment is worth it for many. You gain knowledge and skills that can propel you forward in your career, which often means earning a sweet salary after graduation.

Tuition costs can vary dramatically from program to program. The average MBA tuition can be between $50,000 per year, or $80,000 for the full two years. Some MBA programs can be more than $60,000 a year or more in tuition alone. We've provided the tuition to the top 30 MBA programs on our MBA Rankings page. However, when you think about the price of an MBA you must also weigh the benefits of earning the degree -- because these amounts are inseparable from each other, and cutting down on the cost could produce a disproportionately high drop in ROI.

The MBA tuition can be an indication of the program's quality and regard among employers which in turn, can help you start your career after graduation. However, important questions should still remain: Does the stated tuition include fees and cover textbooks as well as study materials? What are the support services of the school? Does it have a dedicated careers service? Is there a good alumni network for you to draw upon? Are you given preference in choice of accommodation?

It is also important to remember that tuition is not the only cost of earning an MBA. There are travel expenses, fees, and the devotion of your time which you must also consider when evaluating the true cost of an MBA.

Considering the Hidden MBA Costs

Tuition is not the only cost that you have to consider. For a full-time MBA program, you'll have to live on or near campus, which often requires moving to a new place. You'll have to consider the cost of living in the area (especially if you have a family already). Some schools have other charges, such as a health fee.

To figure out exactly how much you may need to spend, you should visit the websites of your target schools. Most of them have some sort of sample budget for the latest entering class. This should give you a better idea of how much money you have to invest.

First and foremost, if you are pursuing a full-time program, you must consider the cost of not working during the program. Depending on how long your course is, this could be two years or more. You may not be able to maintain a job while taking a full-time MBA program, so you have the cost of tuition plus the foregone salary to think about. Even if you are taking a part-time MBA program, you may only have time to work a few days a week.

For candidates in non-online MBA programs, costs could include your travel expenses to and from campus. Depending on where your school is located and if you have moved closer to the campus, the costs of gas and parking or public transportation can quickly add up. If you are relocating for business school, that is a significant cost to consider as well. Along with moving expenses, you'll no doubt end up paying to return home from time to time to see your family and friends. If you enroll in an online MBA program, you'll have to consider the costs of internet and possibly a new computer.

Like any other student, MBA candidates must also shell out for study materials. You can make life a great deal easier by buying yourself an up-to-date laptop, so you aren't forced to rely on your b-school's computer lab and can work on assignments on your own time and in a place of your choosing. However, up-to-date laptops are rarely economical. You'll need textbooks and money for extras, such as study abroad experiences or recruiting treks. New suits for interviews and travel expenses for driving or flying to interviews are among the other sometimes hidden costs of b-school.

After considering all the costs of an MBA program, it might be better to not ask "how much does it cost?" and instead ask "how can I afford it?"

How to Afford an MBA Program

But you have to take into consideration all of your options to make sure you don't end up in debt for nothing. After all, 65 percent of MBA students receive some form of financial assistance, according to Harvard Business School. Here are some ways to defray the cost of the MBA program and maximize its value:

Research All MBA Program Options

Those who want to maintain a full-time job while pursuing the degree could opt into part-time, evening, or online MBA programs. Obviously, being able to earn a salary while you go to school is a plus. You can also immediately apply what you are learning to your work, which can increase the value of the experience for some, especially those who want to move up in their current industry. In addition, while becoming rarer, your company might sponsor some or all of your tuition.

That being said, part-time students often take longer to finish the degree because they're busy with work, and that can hike up the price of tuition. If your end goal is to change industry or function, then a full-time program might be better because it offers the chance to immerse yourself in a major, gain experience in an internship, and focus on developing a broader network.

Picking the right program with the right timeframe for your needs creates instant value. You want to pursue the degree that will help you achieve your specific goals. A piece of paper -- even from one of the best universities -- will be a waste to you if it doesn't get you where you want to go.

Calculate the MBA Return on Investment (ROI)

Lots of media outlets have covered the subject of whether an MBA is worth it anymore. In doing so, they have figured out how long it will take you to get past paying off typical student debt and start out-earning the cost of your tuition at specific institutions. You should look closely at their findings, especially for your target schools.

But don't get too hung up on the numbers. While they are important, education brings with it value that can't be counted or summed up. For example, if you dream of running a soup kitchen for the homeless, you might never make as much money as your tuition cost you, but you will have achieved your ultimate goal. The MBA will have helped you learn how to budget for food supplies, motivate volunteers, and lead an organization. There are intangibles that you should consider, such as developing a network of lifelong friends and mentors, potential partners for startup ideas you have, and the challenge and discourse that happens in classrooms across the world everyday. Don't discount these kinds of things just because Magazine X says School Y won't give you a good ROI until you're well past retirement. It might just be the perfect school for getting the kind of value you're seeking.

Leverage Financial Aid and Scholarships

Financial aid can include money you never have to pay back, such as scholarships, and money you borrow, like student loans. Scholarships are, of course, gifts to use for your education. With most scholarship money going to undergrads, and fewer companies sponsoring employees like they used to in the past, loans tend to be the financial aid of choice for graduate business students.

Still, do a thorough search of scholarships and ask the schools you're targeting about any scholarship opportunities they offer. Then, be sure to apply for whatever you are eligible. It might be unlikely that you'll be chosen, but you won't have any chance if you don't try at all.

"The best way to get scholarship/fellowship money in b-school is to put together a strong application and bring a solid GMAT," says Eric Allen, founder and president of the admissions consultancy Admit Advantage. "Submitting your application as early as possible also helps as schools tend to give scholarship money on a first come-first serve basis."

When considering loans, you need to know the total cost and savings you can put toward your education. If there are ways to trim costs, then do it. "A student loan may be an option, but take care not to borrow more than you need or incur too much debt," says Patrick Partridge, who heads marketing and enrollment for Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. "If you expect to use financial aid, be sure to find out whether you are eligible at the schools you are considering."

Think about how much money you really need. Maybe you want the kinds of jobs that can be found in the area local to your campus, so you can nix paying for those recruiting treks, for example. The more loans you take out, the more you'll have to pay back later. Even if you end up making a snazzy MBA salary, you don't want it all going to those pesky loans.

Budgeting for b-school

Once you know where you're going, you should come up with a financial plan. "Going back to school can be a humbling experience and the financials (or lack thereof) catch-up with you if you don't have a budget," says Allen. "Applicants should create a budget that can get them through the MBA process as well as a buffer in case they don't get a job (it happens)."

Your best bet is to figure out how much you'll need to spend each month, so you can make sure you have enough to get by. Of course, this will be significantly easier if you've already come up with an idea of costs when choosing a program. The bottom line is that business schools require serious financial planning. The good news is that any aspiring MBA should have both the chops and the courage for this kind of budgeting.

Avoid Draining Your Savings

Traditionally, MBA students came through the funnel at investment banks and consulting firms. These industries demanded lots from employees, but paid them well for their sacrifices. Those who were smart set aside some of their ample salary to save up for business school. Nowadays, more and more people from diverse backgrounds and industries are heading to MBA programs. The banks and consulting firms took a hit during the Great Recession, and might not be as generous either. As a result, students may not have the savings they used to have. Still, determine how much, if any, money you can feasibly use from your savings to pay for tuition and other necessities.

Start living like a student

Most financial aid experts will tell you that one of the hardest parts of going back to school in your late 20s and early 30s is learning to live like a student again. By now, you might have gotten used to the good life -- eating steaks once in a while, buying clothes when the whim struck, or splurging on a concert or night on the town. Trade in the steaks for pizzas, nix any purchase on a whim, and outlaw splurges. You have to think back to your undergrad days and learn to make do again, at least for now. Clipping coupons and watching your pennies is the way to be when you're a student.

Allen, for example, says he spent a lot of money on fancy digs his first year at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, but he was never home to appreciate it. The next year, he chose a much less expensive apartment closer to campus. He still was never home, but he spent a lot less, he says.