Savings, scholarships, loans – there are a multitude of tuition assistance options to consider when arranging your MBA funding. Of course, it is a great idea to take matters into your own hands and assess your personal financial situation as a start. You need to have a realistic long-term plan for what you can afford during your studies. Will you be able to rely solely on your savings to take care of tuition fees, study materials, and living and travel expenses? If your answer is “probably not”, now would be a good time to start thinking of your next steps and researching what kind of help you can get from your business school or your employer.
Financial aid from B-schools
Believe it or not, business schools are almost as eager as you to help you fund your MBA degree and the expenses associated with it. They know well that there are many talented and highly skilled professionals out there who will find it difficult to afford a spot in a top international programme. In order to build a classroom full of genuinely motivated students, schools do their best to reward hard-working applicants by assisting them with funding tuition fees and additional education expenses.
Financial assistance from business schools can be as varied as merit and need-based scholarships, fellowships, stipends, on-campus work study, and assistantships. Each type comes with specific requirements and terms. In some cases, several types of aid can be combined, but this is to be clarified in advance with the MBA programme you are applying to.
For example, tuition assistance can come in the form of part-time work next to your studies such as being a research assistant and grading assignments and examinations. As pointed out by the highly selective MIT Sloan School of Management (US), the benefits of such assistantship arrangements extend beyond financial aid: “Every year, MIT Sloan appoints a number of MBA students to teaching and research assistantships that vary in workload and stipend percentage. While helping students cover their expenses, these competitive positions offer outstanding exposure to the school's educational and research programmes.”
Graduate assistantships can be quite competitive, especially in the US where almost 50% of one-year and two-year full-time MBA programmes offer this type of financial aid to students (as reported in the 2017 Application Trends Survey Report by GMAC). This speaks volumes about the added value that assistantships can bring to students in terms of managing finances, as well as new knowledge. Depending on the business school’s terms, there could even be different types of work-study arrangements available. Assistantships at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business (US), for instance, can be either academic or administrative. While in the academic positions assistants get to “work closely with faculty on research projects and initiatives”, the administrative positions allow them to work with B-school units such as admissions, career development, or academic advising and student engagement.
The employer’s point of view
It is not just business schools that offer tuition assistance to MBA students. Organisations also invest in the future careers of their employees and will partially or fully reimburse the educational expenses of ambitious applicants. Keep in mind that the particular programme format you have chosen to attend will also influence your day-to-day job and so, different companies may have different terms for handling employer support. For example, full-time MBA programmes are designed in such a way that you will not be able to work alongside your studies. This type of arrangement could make it more difficult to get financial aid from your employer but if you make a strong case for yourself and explain why it would benefit the company, your chances of getting funded will be much higher.
Of course, there are also MBA formats suitable for executives who would like to continue working alongside their studies and still manage to get their company’s help when financing their business studies. While equally demanding, challenging, and rewarding as the full-time MBA, Executive MBA programmes are delivered on a part-time basis and are designed especially for business professionals in senior roles. If you are an EMBA applicant in need of advice on how to start the conversation on getting tuition assistance from your company, you can even check the information provided on business school websites. Some schools such as Imperial College Business School (UK) and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (US) have entire guides called “business cases” describing steps and recommendations their applicants should follow if they want to successfully gain employer support.
Remember that corporate sponsorship for your MBA goes hand in hand with signing a contract which stipulates that you will continue working for this company for a fixed period of time. Since helping you fund your degree is a large investment from the employer, they will want to ensure that the firm reaps all the benefits of your newly acquired business knowledge. It is a good idea to find out more about your company’s policy with regard to MBA or EMBA tuition assistance before initiating the formal conversation.
Whether you seek to get financial aid from your business school or from your employer, the first and most important step is genuinely believing in your decision yourself. If you know exactly why you need to pursue an MBA degree and if your motivation for applying to a particular programme is clear, your enthusiasm and ambition will shine through.