Financing Your MBA


Grants and fellowships are the holy grail of grad school. What’s better than free money? Unlike loans, grants do not have to be repaid and often go directly to offset tuition and/or living expenses.

If you are a current or former member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you should definitely check out the latest GI Bill, which covers some or all of your MBA tuition. You must serve beyond your four-year military commitment, and funding is capped by state school tuition figures, but you could save boatloads. In even better news, many programs may waive any tuition not covered under the GI Bill as part of the Yellow Ribbon Program, so ask your financial aid office. Now is the perfect time to reap some of the rewards of your service.

Groups traditionally underrepresented in business school have a number of fellowships geared towards them. For instance, women can look to the Forte Foundation and the American Association of University Women. The Consortium, which has historically supported underrepresented minorities in management, is technically open to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents who can show that they are committed to the organization’s mission and offers a variety of resources.

At the end of the day, though, MBA candidates will likely discover that they have a harder time finding outside sources of free money than other graduate students. Sadly, there isn’t the same support for an MBA as for a PhD student studying ethnomusicology or trying to save the spotted lemur. Let’s face it—most of you are getting your MBAs with the intention of going on to higher-paying corporate jobs. Yes, if you are currently in a socially-conscious field and/or intend to go into one, you may come across organizations willing to provide a little assistance. Even in this case, though, it may be best to focus on longer-term loan forgiveness, since that’s the practical way many schools and even the government have tried to address the gap in earning potential for social entrepreneurs.

Most first-year fellowships at particular schools are handed to you with your acceptance letter or shortly thereafter. Such fellowships range from the $1,000 so-and-so family scholarship to straight-up full rides wherein the limo whisks you from matriculation to graduation; your feet never touch the earth.

Unfortunately, odds are that if you haven’t heard by now that your school wants to give you free money, you probably aren’t getting any. Fellowships vary dramatically from program to program, both in terms of availability and the various criteria/strings attached. In most cases, some alum or his/her family established a grant requiring you to meet various demographic or interest criteria.

This is why schools can hardly ever match grants as a way of enticing you to choose their program. Just because you were offered $20,000 by one program because you are an Asian woman from the southwestern United States who is interested in real estate development in Eastern Europe, you can’t assume that another school will be able to offer you similar funds, regardless of how much the admissions committee may like you.

Later, if you did well in your first year, you might receive a small second-year fellowship. Again, this is the kind of bonbon that just shows up on your plate courtesy of the chef; rarely is there an application process. If you are interested in such bonbons, speak with your financial aid office, cozy up to your administrators, and be sure that you are someone whose name rings positively across campus. Just realize that second-year fellowships rarely cover a huge portion of your tuition costs. But money is still money and if your school offers it to you, be happy—and gracious.


If you have exhausted the grant and loan pipelines, do not despair. There are a number of other ways to think about funding your graduate studies.

Before school:

• 529 plans. Originally designed to help folks save for college, you can also apply the funds to grad school. Have a relative who’s done with schooling but still has money in his/her account? See about having the balance transferred over to you.

• Formal loans from family members. This is a great way to get some help from family—but you want to make sure it’s not just a gift, or the IRS is going to crack the whip. You need to have real contracts and real promissory notes, along with a legitimate interest rate if the loan is over $10,000. Set it up as a ‘demand loan,’ and keep the overall amount small. Virgin Money U.S. will set up the loan and act as the intermediary, if the amount is non-trivial. Or just draw up a contract by finding a form from Nolo Press or another vendor.

During School:

• Assistantships. Talk to your professors if you’re interested in teaching or research assistantships. Someone’s always looking for another person to help crunch the data for an upcoming paper or hold Friday review sessions. Realize that the per-hour rate is usually crappy.

• Tutoring. Schools will often pay second years or those who have waived out of classes to tutor other classmates. You need to be a good teacher for this one, but it’s usually a very convenient gig. Also, consider tutoring undergrads—or working in the test-prep industry (it can be much more lucrative than you think).

• Publications and other activities. Some schools pay the publisher of the school newspaper or other publications. Also see if there are paid roles within the admissions or other campus offices.

• Part-time outside work. No, you don’t have a lot of time, but you can think about getting a small job to pick up a few extra bucks. And if you can finagle a paid internship, you’re clearly doing something right.

After School:

• Tuition reimbursement. Some employers will reimburse tuition or pay hefty signing bonuses. If you are so lucky, immediately send a check to the student loan. Knock some right off the top. Otherwise, it’ll go into the second-year money pit.


Money is a huge issues, both in B-school and in life. But the fact is, he who dies with the most toys still dies. So don’t let the numbers run (or ruin) your life. As with everything else during this period, you need to stick to your own values, your own priorities, and your own metrics for gauging what is important to you.

Living richly doesn’t depend upon the number of digits in your bank account balance, now or in the future.

Carrie Shuchart and Chris Ryan are the authors of “Case Studies & Cocktails: The ‘Now What?’ Guide to Surviving Business School.” This article is an excerpt from the book. Shuchart, who has an MBA from Columbia Business School, is a consultant with McKinsey & Co. in Los Angeles. Ryan, who has an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, is director of product and instructor development for ManhattanGMAT in New York. Both Carrie and Chris are also long-time instructors at Manhattan GMAT. As part of an ongoing initiative to serve its students beyond test prep, Manhattan GMAT commissioned and published this book.

Case Studies & Cocktails: The “Now What?” Guide to Surviving Business School

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