A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a significant investment — but it’s one with great upside potential.
While you may be weighing whether or not to go to graduate school, an MBA can lead to greater professional opportunities and increased compensation.
You can also employ several strategies to help pay for an MBA, from employer tuition reimbursement and affinity group grants to college scholarships and state and federal financial-aid programs.
Here, experts from the USC Marshall School of Business share a few tips to help you defray costs, avoid accumulating debt and maximize the return on your investment (ROI).
They Give at the Office
If currently employed, your company might be a good place to start.
“One of the first options students should consider is employer reimbursement programs,” Miriam Burgos, academic director of the USC Marshall Online MBA program, told USC Online.
Major corporations offering tuition reimbursement include Apple, Bank of America, Intel, Procter & Gamble and the consulting firm Deloitte. But many smaller companies provide support as well, knowing they have to compete for top talent.
Your employer may also help cover course materials and other expenses.
“Companies are looking to compensate MBAs for that additional education and work experience,” noted Mark Brostoff, USC Marshall assistant dean and director of Graduate Career Services.
Such businesses will have often have a webpage with reimbursement information, so do your research.
“Look carefully into the policies employers have because there might be unit limits per semester or other restrictions,” Burgos advised.
And since companies providing financial assistance will want to benefit from the training they’re subsidizing, look out for requirements related to how long you have to work there — and how long you are required to stay.
Discover USC Marshall’s online MBA program.
Affinity for Aid
You also may have the potential to turn your hobbies or heritage into an MBA scholarship. Affinity groups are clubs and communities formed around a shared interest or background. They may also be devoted to promoting success among their ethnicity or gender identity.
“It’s surprising how much is out there,” Burgos said. “If someone has a particular hobby, for example, there may be a group dedicated to that pursuit that will give a small scholarship.”
As of this writing, these groups include the Daughters of the American Revolution, Prospanica (devoted to the success of Hispanic MBAs and business professionals), the National Black MBA Association and the Golden Key international honor society.
The Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals offers a scholarship to MBA students interested in the insurance industry.
While these small scholarships require some digging, they can add up quickly if you apply to multiple organizations.
“Students can get several,” Burgos said. “There’s no limit,” provided you meet the requirements.
And the Award Goes to…
Brostoff suggested that prospective students factor in a program’s level of financial aid when looking at their favored schools. Fortunately, nearly all universities offer scholarships to qualified students — with some packages covering half or all of tuition costs.
At USC Marshall, for instance, all admitted students are considered for merit-based scholarship opportunities.
Since other business schools tend to follow this practice as well, make sure your application packet is as strong as possible for wherever you want to attend.
But don’t depend on a business school to underwrite your education without due diligence from you. Research the scholarships and financial aid offered by the schools that most interest you and follow their guidelines in going after awards.
Your chosen business school may also have alumni societies wanting to support your success, confident that you will be able to pay back their generosity by contributing to future scholarships.
“Look into state and federal programs,” Burgos suggested. Find and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for grants, work-study funds, loan subsidies and other support at the national level.
Sometimes, FAFSA can help you get state aid as well. In addition, contact your state’s education agency to see what’s available. Your business school’s financial aid office may also be able to help you garner state and federal support.
Rate of Return
Return on Investment (ROI) is an essential benchmark of business success. So now that you’ve lowered the cost of your MBA, what level of dividend can you expect from the degree and the skills it builds?
“Students need to consider their chosen area,” Burgos said. “Clearly defining your career goals before jumping into an MBA is the first step toward ensuring the highest possible ROI from the program you select.”
She observes that “general management programs will be just right for some people, while others will benefit more from a program that focuses specifically on nonprofit management, for example.”
Consider whether you would rather work in the private, public or nonprofit sector? For a tech firm, government agency or charitable foundation?
In choosing the right program for you, also weigh a business school’s national ranking and the strength and breadth of its alumni network, which can help you advance your career by introducing you to top professionals around the globe as well as internship and full-time employment opportunities.
What Matters to You
Depending on their interests, different students will define what that ROI looks like.
“For some, it will mean a certain percentage of pay raise from their current employer and increasingly higher levels of responsibility,” Burgos explained. “For others, it may mean a successful industry pivot and completely switching careers for personal satisfaction.”
Your ROI could also rely on “the diversity of work experience and taking global opportunities — being mobile instead of just working within one geographic region,” Brostoff said.
So factor in your personal as well as professional goals. For example, do you want to stay in your current location, raise your family and perhaps work remotely? Or do you want to travel the world?
Whatever your choices, if an MBA is right for you, “it opens up great opportunities,” Brostoff said. “And the median and average compensation levels continue to rise.”
Learn more about USC Marshall’s online MBA program today.