What It Now Costs To Get A Top-25 MBA Degree

The cost to attend a top-25 school went down in some places, but was up again this year overall — despite the coronavirus pandemic that has moved most instruction online. Getty

How did coronavirus impact the bottom line for MBA candidates entering the top 25 programs in the United States in 2020? Very little.

Covid-19 may have slowed the rise of overall costs, but not by a lot. A Poets&Quants analysis of tuition, living expenses, and other costs associated with attending one of the leading full-time, two-year MBA programs finds that the global pandemic led several U.S. schools to freeze their tuition, which in turn led to costs declining for the first time in some places. But overall costs continued to creep upward, and the $200K club — schools that charge that much or more for two years of graduate business education — has grown once again.

Thirteen schools are now in that rarefied club, up from a dozen last year and nine in 2018, after the University of Virginia Darden School of Business grew its costs by about 3% to reach a two-year total of $200,644. Four more schools are knocking on the door with more than $190K in tuition, fees, room and board, and other costs over two years. But leading all schools, as it did last year, is MIT Sloan School of Management, where an MBA for those who began classes this fall will cost $241,692 by the time they cross the stage (hopefully in person) in 2022.

MIT was followed by NYU Stern School of Business ($238,502), Stanford Graduate School of Business ($237,288), Columbia Business School ($235,266), and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business ($224,000) — see a complete table of total cost data on page 2.


Dartmouth Tuck had the highest annual tuition this year at $77,520, just barely topping Columbia and MIT, while Stanford again had the highest cost of living. Eight schools froze tuition for this coronavirus intake, while one, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, shrank it slightly. Two others — UCLA and Indiana Kelley — raised tuition only nominally, by $10 and $3, respectively. See charts below.

Overall, the average cost to attend a top-25 MBA program in the U.S. for two years is $195,416, up 0.7% from $194,031 in 2019. However, that is a rebound from the two-year period between 2018 and 2019, when the average actually decreased by 1%. (The average total cost at the top 25 in 2018 was $196,067; in 2017, $185,747.) So when it comes to how much new MBA candidates are paying to attend an elite U.S. B-school, a worldwide pandemic didn’t help their wallets, despite the online delivery of many programs this fall (a reality that is likely to persist into the spring).

How do these costs compare with the ten-month-long MBA program at INSEAD? At what is Europe’s No. 1-ranked business school the tuition now totals $103,626, while living expenses come to $28,356 at the Fontainebleau campus in France or $32,250 at the Singapore campus. So the total comes to $131,982 in Europe or $135,876 in Asia.

Note: This story originally posted Wharton’s tuition as the highest in the world, as that school publishes a “tuition plus fees” number that eclipsed $80,000 this year (like last year). But a breakdown of costs shows that Wharton froze its tuition this year at $74,500 — still seventh-highest in the world, but not the highest by about $3,000. Wharton is also seventh-highest on our total cost list (see page 2). 


Back in the U.S., among top-25 schools UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business saw the biggest increase in total cost year-over-year, a 4.7% jump to $212,696. Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management saw a 3% increase, to $199,520, and a handful of other schools had increases of less than 3%. Overall out of 25 schools, 19 were up in total cost at an average of 1.9% and $3,901, and six were down, at a 2.6% and $5,551 average. The biggest drop: UCLA’s Anderson School of Management shed 4.6%, more than $10K.

By far the biggest portion of MBA programs’ cost, of course, is tuition. Fifteen schools have tuition rates of $70K or more, up from 13 in 2019 and nine in 2018. The highest annual tuition is at Dartmouth Tuck ($77,520), followed by Columbia ($77,376), MIT ($77,168), and Stern ($76,780). Among the eight schools that froze tuition, Harvard did it for the second year in a row; Columbia, MIT, Wharton, and Yale were the other top-10 schools to forego 2020 hikes. Notably, eight schools also froze their estimates of living expenses this year.

In the top 10, eight schools up were up in total cost, at an average increase of 2.2% or $4,758, with Berkeley Haas the highest: up $9,628, or 4.7%. The two other schools, Wharton and Tuck, were down 2.8% and 2.6%, respectively. The average total cost to attend a top 10 school: $223,750, up $2,558 (1.2%) from 2019’s rate of $221,192. Average yearly tuition at a top-10 school is $75,215, up just $268 or 0.4% compared to 2019 ($74,947) — very similar to the increase between 2018 and 2019.

The school with the biggest tuition increase: Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, which upped tuition 6.1% to $69,399.

Looking back four cycles, the school with the biggest cost increase is MIT, up $40,664 (20.2%).


Every year we feel compelled to include this section of the story. To wit: B-schools’ calculation of living expenses in their total cost estimates is a source of ongoing debate. Living expenses for New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, or the Bay Area of California often seem to drastically underestimate the actual expense of living in these places.

It is a fact that most B-schools’ estimates of annual living expenses are far below realistic. For example, NYU Stern says its MBA candidates should budget $26,804 (up a fraction from last year’s $26,780) for a year in New York City, a town where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, according to Rent Jungle, is $3,228 per month. That’s to say nothing of the cost of food and the occasional item of clothing or night out (socially distanced, of course). Columbia, in the same town, is even worse, budgeting only $24,822. Across the country, Stanford is a bit more realistic about the cost of living in pricey Palo Alto, budgeting a “living allowance” of $33,693 — but consider that, according to Rent Jungle, the average cost of an 800-square-foot closet anywhere in the vicinity of Stanford’s campus is just shy of $3,000 per month. And again, there’s that whole eating thing.

As we make certain to note every year for this story, Stanford doesn’t have just one number that it applies to all students’ situations. Rather, the school indicates that married students should budget a yearly living allowance of $55,929 (up from $54,300 in 2019). Which is great — until you realize that by doing so, your total cost to attend GSB has ballooned to $281,760 over two years. Further down the rankings, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has widely disparate cost estimates for in-state versus out-of-state residents. Indiana residents can expect to pay $27,864 in tuition, a little more than half what everyone else pays: $51,454. That’s a big enough difference that it might be worth it to live in Indiana for a while before starting your MBA.

See the next page for complete charts of the total cost, tuition and living expenses for the top 25 U.S. full-time MBA programs.

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