Small Scholarships Add Up: How to Finance your MBA

by Vault Education Editors | May 04, 2010

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At the MBA Diversity event in March, Carrie Marcinkevage, MBA admissions director at Penn State University's Smeal College of Business, gave a lively talk about how to finance your MBA. Much like the admissions panel Ms. Marcinkevage's lecture was very informative. Your two years at business school are two of the most expensive of your life. Besides tuition, the cost of an MBA includes paying for books, computer, living expenses (e.g., rent, food, play, car, etc.) and a number of required fees (e.g., registration, activities, club dues, technology and others). All together, B-school can run you over $110,000. So it's important to explore every type of aid available to help lessen the burden and increase your ROI. In the words of Ms. Marcinkevage, no matter how small the scholarship every "drop in the bucket" helps.

MBA Diversity The first step in any search for any financial aid search is to evaluate your finances. Figure out where you can save money--live with a roommate, perhaps, or consider an in-state school to save on tuition and rent. As Ms. Macinkeage points out, you're "about to be an MBA," you'll soon "be a master at saving money."

Once you've got your personal finances in order, it's time to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Every financial aid office will require you to submit an FAFSA before they can evaluate your application for aid and award scholarships. Under the new student loan reform bill, all federal loans will be awarded through the school, so by submitting the FAFSA you're killing two birds with one stone. But remember not to borrow more than you need, even though the interests rates may be low. "The less you borrow now, the faster you're going to break even," says Ms. Marcinkevage. Moreover, "you can go back to that well as often as you need to...you can always get more if you need it."

Students applying for financial aidIn addition to the traditional financial aid methods--those through your school or employer, federal loans and grants and private loans (always a "last resort")--Ms. Marcinkevage tells prospective MBAs to explore all other options. "Take a look at your resume and talk to family and friends;" you may be eligible for alternative financing based on your career path or ethnic background. Ask: "to what kind of organizations do I belong?" says Marcinkevage. "Go to their websites" and see if they have scholarship opportunities. Academic, cultural and professional organizations such as NSHMBA, NBMBAA, NAACP, SHRM, CGSM, PhD Project and MBA Diversity all offer scholarships for MBA students.

But those are some of the more traditional alternative financing options out there. There may be even more scholarships out there that you're eligible for that you don't know about. In April, The Wall Street Journal published an article about nontraditional scholarship and grant opportunities. For example, Tall Clubs International offers scholarships to women over 5'10" and men over 6'2". Alumni also often donate scholarships to students who fit specific requirements--which can be anything from a particular last name to an undergraduate degree in underwater basket-weaving. Even though each scholarship may be small, as Ms. Macinkevage points out, small help adds up: you "could end up with $40,000 a year in scholarships."

It may seem overwhelming trying to find funding for your MBA. But before you scour the internet for basket-weaving scholarships, make sure you look inward first. Says Ms. Marcinkevage, "financial aid is very much about you, your initiative and what's offered to you...The key is what you can control. Maximize your application the best you possibly can."

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