Examining the True Cost of An MBA Degree

By Kevin Brouillard · September 18, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Examining the True Cost of An MBA Degree

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a highly valued degree in the business world and can put you on a path to a successful, and high-paying, career. However, these degrees don’t come cheap. In fact, the average cost of a top MBA in the U.S. in 2022 was a whopping $225,605, including tuition, fees, supplies and living costs.

Is it worth it? The answer depends on myriad factors, including what B-school you go to, your financial situation, what financial aid you qualify for, and your future career goals. Read on for a closer look at the real costs and benefits of getting an MBA.

MBA School Costs

How much an MBA costs will depend on a variety of factors, such as school ranking, tuition structure, enrollment status, cost of living, and fees. MBA costs are also influenced by a student’s ability to qualify for financial aid, scholarships, and employer assistance.

It’s helpful to consider these factors and your chance of acceptance when evaluating MBA programs.

💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.

MBA School Requirements

To be accepted into an MBA program, students typically need to submit proof of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and a resume. Some schools require the GMAT or GRE and/or set GPA minimums for admission.

It’s worth noting that the acceptance rate at the top 10 business schools in 2022 averaged 22.2%. Working with an MBA application consultant could help fine-tune your writing and communication style to improve your candidacy for competitive programs.

Once enrolled, MBA students generally complete between 30 to 60 credits over two years of full-time study. Some accelerated MBA programs may be completed in as little as one year.

Private and Public MBA Tuition

Excluding scholarships and financial aid, public in-state tuition can be a student’s more cost-effective option for higher education. This rings true for prospective MBA students in certain states. For instance, the total MBA program cost for 2023-24 at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is $80,016 for in-state students, compared to $115,692 for out-of-state students.

However, the difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state or private tuition can be marginal at some high ranking public MBA programs. For example, 2023-24 tuition at the University of Michigan is $70,392 for in-state students vs. $75,392 for non-residents.

Total Cost of an MBA

The total cost of an MBA degree means more than just tuition expenses. Many MBA students will have to pay for textbooks, transportation, extracurricular activities, and other living expenses as part of their education. This more comprehensive expense list is used to calculate the cost of attendance.

A student’s enrollment status also impacts MBA cost. Studying part-time can allow students to pay per credit hour and continue working, though dropping below full-time enrollment status may impact eligibility for some scholarships.

To understand the true cost of an MBA, you also need to factor in the opportunity cost of not working, and not earning a salary, for the (typically) two years you are attending school full-time.

Recommended: Is Getting an MBA Worth It?

How Much Does an Online MBA Cost?

Relocating or commuting may not be feasible for all prospective MBA students. Choosing an online MBA program can offer more flexibility and a lower overall cost for some students.

Keep in mind that the cost of online MBA programs can vary greatly. Top ranking online MBA programs — UNC and Carnegie Mellon — cost over $125,000 and $140,000 in total tuition and fees, respectively. There are more affordable options, however. For example, an online MBA at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business runs $35,100.

Recommended: The 14 Best Jobs for MBA Graduates

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Getting an MBA

At the lower end, tuition costs for business schools may come in around $52,000 a year (for an in-state student at a public university); at the higher end, it’s around $80,000 a year. Top schools like Yale and Duke University can leave students with over $104,000 in debt.

Even considering the increase in salary for those who went to prestigious programs — Yale graduates make a median base salary of $160,110 a year, plus a $30,000 signing bonus — those upfront costs of tuition can be intimidating. And let’s not forget, there are still costs that don’t factor into tuition.

Clubs, for instance, might be a necessary networking tool, and they come with a price tag that’s hard to factor in. And how about a trip to study in India? Traveling abroad pushes your costs up even further.

When weighing costs and benefits, you’ll want to also consider that many MBA programs offer scholarships, based both on merit and need. NYU reports awarding merit-based scholarships to up to 25% of students, while around 50% of MBA students at Stanford receive fellowship funds averaging $44,000 per year.

Keep scholarship availability in mind when researching schools, since aid varies widely. Stanford, for instance, has one of the highest costs of attendance (around $126,465 a year) but students can graduate with far less debt than most top tier MBA programs due to their need-based financial aid.

Ways to Pay for Your MBA

Assuming you don’t have six figures in savings you can tap to pay for business school, you may need to get creative to cover the costs. Beyond scholarships and fellowships, mentioned above, here are some other options to help pay for your MBA.

Employer Sponsorship

Sponsorship through a company is possible but relatively rare, and it can come with strings attached. For instance, you may be contractually obligated to stay with the company sponsoring you for a certain number of years, which may prove limiting if you don’t see a future with that company or in that field.

Many students choose to work summers, or even during the school year. However, some schools advise students not to take on part-time work due to the workload and the importance of extracurricular activities.

Student Loans

Depending on your financial situation, chances are it might be necessary to consider applying for MBA loans, whether private or federal, to pay for your MBA.

The interest rates for Federal Direct Plus Loans for graduate students disbursed between July 1, 2023, and July 1, 2024 is fixed at 8.05%.

Interest rates on private student loans may be fixed or variable and will vary depending on multiple factors, including the applicant’s credit history. These loans, which are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders, are not need-based and generally require a credit check. Borrowers (or cosigners) with excellent credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates.

Keep in mind that private student loans may not offer the same borrower protections that federal student loans offer, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness or income-driven repayment plans.

💡 Quick Tip: Master’s degree or graduate certificate? Private or federal student loans can smooth the path to either goal.

The Takeaway

In the business world, people with MBAs generally earn much higher salaries than those in comparable roles who don’t have an MBA. The median starting salary offered to 2022 MBA grads was $115,000. However, graduates from top business schools were offered significantly more — an average base salary and signing bonus of $193,159.

When thinking about whether the cost of an MBA is worth it, you’ll want to tally up all the expenses involved in attending a business school program, tap any sources of financial aid you are eligible for, plus do some research into how much graduates from your selected school tend to earn in the business world.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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