MIT Sloan | Mr. AI & Robotics
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7
Tuck | Mr. Liberal Arts Military
GMAT 680, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Social Entrepreneur
GRE 328, GPA 3.0
Wharton | Mr. Industry Switch
GMAT 760, GPA 3.95
Stanford GSB | Mr. Irish Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Marine Executive Officer
GRE 322, GPA 3.28
Harvard | Ms. Developing Markets
GMAT 780, GPA 3.63
Harvard | Mr. Policy Player
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Wharton | Mr. Future Non-Profit
GMAT 720, GPA 8/10
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Tough Guy
GMAT 680, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. CPPIB Strategy
GRE 329 (Q169 V160), GPA 3.6
Harvard | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
Chicago Booth | Mr. Bank AVP
GRE 322, GPA 3.22
Kellogg | Mr. Double Whammy
GMAT 730, GPA 7.1/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Infantry Officer
GRE 320, GPA 3.7
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Ernst & Young
GMAT 600 (hopeful estimate), GPA 3.86
Kellogg | Mr. Engineer Volunteer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Kellogg | Mr. Operations Analyst
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.3
Kellogg | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.15
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Indian Dreamer
GRE 331, GPA 8.5/10
Kellogg | Mr. Innovator
GRE 300, GPA 3.75
London Business School | Ms. Private Equity Angel
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
Yale | Ms. Biotech
GMAT 740, GPA 3.29
Stanford GSB | Ms. Global Empowerment
GMAT 740, GPA 3.66
Harvard | Mr. Renewables Athlete
GMAT 710 (1st take), GPA 3.63

How Much Will You Have To Borrow?


Earlier this week, a new report on student loan debt seemed to have some good news for MBA graduates. The study by the New America Foundation suggested that the debt burden of MBAs was significantly lighter than the borrowing assumed by all other graduate students.

Citing 2012 numbers, the report said that the typical debt of MBA graduates who borrow is just $42,000, versus $161,772 for graduates of med school and $140,616 for law school. In fact, graduates of every other master’s program incurred more debt than MBAs, according to the study.

Well, forget it. If you’re aiming to go to a highly ranked business school for your MBA, you can pretty much toss the New American report in the garbage. Even after Harvard Business School handed more than $30 million in fellowship money to its students, the average debt burden for Class of 2013 graduates was $73,926 last year—and that was pretty much a bargain, compared to the loans racked up by graduates of the most prestigious business schools.


At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the estimated MBA debt burden was a record $118,100, while at Columbia Business School it was $115,200. MBA graduates of Duke University’s Fuqua School last year saw their average loans increase by 6% to $108,186 from $102,054 in 2012 and $96,805 in 2011.

And you don’t have to graduate from a highly ranked school to leave with an MBA and a pile of debt. Last year’s graduating MBAs from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management racked up average debt loads of $89,245, a whopping 35% increase over the $66,111 in average debt just two years ago.

So why does the New American Foundation report show typical MBA debt burden at only $42,000, up only $627 since 2004, according to the report? Mainly because the Department of Education numbers include part-time MBA students who are earning their degrees as they work and can therefore afford not to borrow as much money. It also includes graduates from a much wider range of schools not in the highly selective category.


Still, some fairly prominent business schools actually beat the New American average MBA debt burden. MBAs from the University of Washington’s Foster School last year averaged student debt of only $38,394. At the University of Wisconsin’s business school average debt totaled only $22,410 and at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School, it was only $27,942.

At the highest-ranked MBA programs, the analysis of student loans by Poets&Quants also showed that many business schools are pouring in record amounts of scholarship money that is both slowing down increases in average debt and in some cases resulting in some significant declines.

Consider MBA graduates at Vanderbilt University’s Owen School. They saw average debt fall by 9.6% in 2013 to $76,205 from $84,342 a year earlier. The school managed to lower student debt by holding tuition and fees low, increasing its pool of scholarship money by 27% in the past three years, and getting more students summer internships and full-time sign-on bonuses. “Together, these have driven the very desirable result of affordability and reduced student debt,” says M. Eric Johnson, dean of the Owen School.


The University of Texas at Austin also reported a significant decrease in MBA debt burdens. The Class of 2013 saw a 12.6% fall in average borrowing to $70,395 from $80,589 a year earlier. A spokesperson for the school attributed the decline to both additional scholarship funding but also better data. “For the first time this year we pulled data and reports straight from our university’s central Financial Aid Office, rather than trying to calculate the numbers internally. We found out that we had been over-estimating the amount of indebtedness in the past,” the spokesperson said.

New York University’s Stern School reported an impressive 11.3% drop in average MBA debt to $93,832 from $105,782 in 2012. Stern Dean Peter Henry says a major concern for him is “accessibility” to higher education. One of his top priorities is to raise more money for scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students. The reason average debt is down at Stern, he says, is increased funding for scholarships and a new program that forgives loans if a graduate pursues a career in the social sector.

All told, though, average debt was up at 19 of the ranked schools at which borrowing is highest. It was down as nine schools. High average debt is also a sign that a school is offering less scholarship support than rivals and trailing in the “arm’s race” to win the best prospective students. Business schools that decline to provide average debt numbers–including Wharton and Columbia–are known to have comparatively smaller pools of fellowship money than their peers.

(See following page for a listing of the schools whose graduates have the most debt)

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.