How Much Does A Top MBA Degree Cost?

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

What’s the most expensive two-year MBA program you can take? You might be surprised to learn it isn’t Harvard or Stanford, or Wharton or Chicago, or Dartmouth or Yale. Instead, priciest MBA is being sold by Columbia Business School. Columbia estimates that the cost of its two-year, full-time MBA program in New York is a whopping $168,307.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria said earlier this week that the cost of a Harvard MBA is less than several other top rivals. “We are at the middle of the pack when it comes to the top ten schools,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with The Financial Times. By the estimates of the total cost of the degree posted on business school websites, he’s actually being somewhat conservative. Harvard comes in as the seventh most expensive MBA program among the top 20 U.S. business schools.

Not only is Columbia number one, but the school Columbia also ends up on another extreme end of this list of premium-priced degrees. Columbia reports the lowest percentage of MBA students who are receiving financial aid from the school–just 55%, well below the 81% at Duke, the 80% at Dartmouth, or the 75% at Stanford.

The total cost of the Columbia program includes two years worth of tuition, fees, books, and the estimated costs to live in New York City. But as often is the case, these numbers are often conservative. Yale’s School of Managment makes clear that its esimates assume a “modest lifestyle.” Cornell informs applicants on its website that its estimate of $11,250 a year for living expenses is “based on the cost of sharing a moderately priced apartment” at a cost of $700 a month rent and putting aside $425 a month for food.

Most MBAs at elite schools will find it hard to live on that budget, especially in New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco. Indeed, perhaps to make these estimates more believable to applicants, Cornell goes out of its way to note, “It is much easier to live like a student when you are a student than to live like a student when you are earning $90,000 annually. If you were to reduce your student loans from $50,000 to $40,000 you would save approximately $121 per month in student loan payments.”


In almost all cases, these “total cost” numbers–taken from the school’s websites–are very conservative estimates. Wharton’s $168,000 pricetag, for example, fails to include the cost of its Global Immersion Program, which ranges from $5,800 to $7,800, or the inevitable cost to join clubs, attend conferences and “parties,” which Wharton estimates at $860 a year. Those two omissions alone add 6% to the total cost estimate of an MBA degree. Stanford’s estimate of the total cost of its MBA degree doesn’t include a required “global study tour” which costs about $4,000. In most cases, you can expect the “total cost estimate” to be 10% to 20% higher, given your lifestyle preferences and desire to take full advantage of the MBA experience.

The costs of non-U.S. MBA programs can vary widely, especially because in Europe one-year programs are especially popular. London Business School’s 21-month MBA program looks like a bargain if you believe the estimate: $134,152, with $77,854 of that going to pay tuition. The accelerated 10-month MBA program at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, costs just $102,714 (with about $73,000 of that for tuition). Of course, that’s the estimate from INSEAD for living expenses, food, and travel. Could you live in France on $30,000 over those ten months? Perhaps if you lived in a trailer or a tent.

School Total MBA Cost Two-Year Tuition Percent Getting Aid Amount of aid/loans
1. Columbia $168,307 $106,416 55% $115,716
2. Pennsylvania (Wharton) $168,000 $108,018 76% NA
3. Stanford $166,812 $106,236 75% $115,954
4. Chicago (Booth) $165,190 $101,800 NA NA
5. Dartmouth (Tuck) $162,750 $101,400 80% $90,150
6. MIT (Sloan) $160,378 $100,706 71% $130,418
7. Harvard $158,800 $97,200 63% $113,038
8. New York (Stern) $157,622 $94,572 NA $114,628
9. Northwestern (Kellogg) $156,990 $102,990 66% $111,782
10. Yale School of Mgt. $151,982 $99,800 70% $87,182
11. Carnegie Mellon $149,400 $105,000 81% $88,240
12. UCLA (Anderson) $147,278 $97,854 80% $85,744
13. Berkeley (Haas) $144,746 $95,274 68% $67,052
14. Cornell (Johnson) $142,404 $98,544 70% $87,182
15. Virginia (Darden) $142,000 $99,000 80% $110,160
16. Michigan (Ross) $141,210 $107,600 72% $107,228
17. Duke (Fuqua) $137,744 $95,920 81% NA
18. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) $136,860 $93,176 73% $87,924
19. Emory (Goizueta) $130,280 $84,800 85% $90,534
20. Texas-Austin (McCombs) $127,144 $90,256 75% $97,740

SOURCE: Schools

What can you deduce from the costs of these top MBA programs and the amount of financial aid for students arranged by their schools? The least expensive program is at the University of Texas at Austin. At a total cost of $127,144–more than $40,000 less than a Columbia MBA–it looks like a true bargain for a top degree. Then, add in the fact that the school is helping 75% of its MBAs with financial aid–versus Columbia’s 55%–and it seems as if it is a very smart investment, indeed.

The most expensive public university in the MBA game is surprisingly UCLA. Higher ranked B-schools at Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia are less expensive in total costs than the Anderson school in Los Angeles–largely because of the highest cost of living in L.A. than Berkeley, Ann Arbor, or Charlottesville.

The most generous school in terms of financial aid? MIT Sloan. The school puts together the largest average financial aid packages of the top schools: $130,418. That’s more than $15,000 more than Columbia and more than twice the size of Berkeley’s $67,052 (the lowest amount reported by any of our top 20 schools). Be aware, however, that financial aid is a rather vague phrase to describe a package of financial help. You don’t know how much of this money is merely a loan or a scholarship or fellowship.


Such fellowships–typically used to lure exceptional students or to help students on the basis of financial need–can significantly lower the price tag of an MBA. Harvard effectively discounts the sticker price of its MBA by paying out some $22 million a year in fellowship money. HBS says that nearly half of every MBA class receives an average of some $25,000 per year in “need-based” HBS Fellowships that are granted only on the basis of financial need and not academic merit. The school makes these awards based on an analysis of an applicant’s income for the prior three years as well as the applicant’s assets.

Air Time - Comments
  • Poor kid

    You really don’t think $3,000 / month is enough to live in France? Haha

  • JohnAByrne

    Harvard Business School is among the most generous business schools in the world. Each year the school provides $31.5 million in fellowship grants to its 1,800 MBA students. If you can get admitted to HBS, you stand a very good chance of receiving a fairly large financial aid package. We published an entire series of stories on scholarships at business schools, the most extensive reporting on the subject ever done, including advice on how to get one and how much money each school has. See our story on scholarships here:

  • Nzuvi

    Am interested in studying my MBA in Harvard on completing my degree here in Kenya but the charges are high.As a foreign student am I entitled for financial assistance?

  • Bastion

    Where do you work and what do you do??

  • klip

    If I give you 200K right now as opposed to doing an MBA in the top 10 US schools, which would mean more to you( Think objectively)? Use time value of money, a concept you can easily learn not only in the Top 10 US MBA but any good book of the library shelf.

    People say the true value of MBA is networking. Would you pay 200K for your networks? Really?

    If its knowledge your argument falls apart, because all you need is 10K to buy all the books used in the business school, even better enrol yourself in a phD program free of cost and learn for the next 5 years on leading research in management field of your choice.

    Outside of US, no one recognises the MBA the same way. So, if you are considering returning to Asia where the most of the growth is right now, your US MBA is not worth much. In fact any MBA is not worth much. And why should it?

    More and more students in Asia are becoming smarter and doing the MBA part time. Remember Satyan Nadella did his MBA part time. The advantage of part time MBA, is you prove you can multi task more efficiently than full time guys.

    My solution to those who are super desperate to be on the MBA bandwagon: 1) Do it part time 2) If you don’t land a top 10 US program , do an ultra cheap one (don’t settle for Europe MBAs or anything else)

    Looking forward to your comments….

  • jj

    You “no” how the system works..
    yep you certainly are an MBA graduate who can’t even spell KNOW properly.

  • Student Debt Monkey

    Check out studentdebtmonkey dot com, then don’t go to business school.

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