Business Administration

How to Save Money on Your Online MBA

How to Save Money on Your Online MBA
If you play your cards right, you can earn an MBA without depleting your resources, and you'll set yourself up for career success in the process. Image from Unsplash
Katherine J. Igoe profile
Katherine J. Igoe September 3, 2020

Online MBAs offer marginal savings by eliminating the need to commute and/or relocate. Our writer reveals other, less obvious ways to reduce costs while earning this essential business graduate degree.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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If you’ve decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration online instead of in-person, you’ve probably already figured out that you’ll save money on housing and commuting. You probably also realize that you’ll also save on potential lost revenue, if you continue to work while studying. That’s already two pretty substantial windfalls related to online study.

Even so, an MBA—regardless of format—can be quite expensive. Tuitions start as low as $257 per academic credit with top programs costing nearly ten times as much. Fortunately, the list of affordable online MBA programs is growing. Every year, more schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) enter the online MBA market at affordable price points.

If you play your cards right, you can earn an MBA without depleting your resources, and you’ll set yourself up for career success in the process. MBAs are already relatively recession-proof because of the broad application of business administration and business management. Still, if the market goes south or even fluctuates dramatically around the time you graduate, you’ll be glad for the savings.

Beyond what you already know, here are a few advanced options to consider to make your online MBA—and the associated costs—more affordable.

Employer benefits or scholarships for online programs

Sometimes you’ll know when you sign with a new employer whether it offers tuition assistance. If not, it’s worth asking your boss and/or the HR department at your organization. Numbers vary, but it’s estimated by US News and World Report that 50 percent of employers offer at least partial tuition assistance .

Regardless of your employer’s policy, you may be able to negotiate ad hoc tuition assistance as a benefit, particularly if you’re a valued employee. Some companies even offer formal sabbatical opportunities, which might be perfect for your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for this benefit. When you approach your boss or HR with this request, come prepared with information about school rankings, the credit-hour requirements, program accreditation, and affordability. Frame the arrangement as a win-win: you get an education to further your career, and your employer gets a more valuable employee. You will probably have to commit to remaining with your employer for a fixed time in return.

Scholarships provide another source of potential tuition relief. Experts say there may be additional scholarships available to remote learners from particular affordable online MBA programs. The AACSB-accredited Howard University School of Business, for example, works closely with students to find scholarships and other forms of aid. Organizations tied to a particular job or discipline may also offer small scholarships to students pursuing a related degree. Make sure that the scholarship is still available if you’re a part-time student; some are only available to business school students going full-time.

A smaller, but still substantial, potential money-saver is a fee waiver or financial assistance on the GMAT—the MBA entrance exam. The GMAT can be a pricey test, and it can take a few tries before you obtain your optimal score. MBA degree programs qualify for a set number of GMAT fee waivers every year, which they can apply for and distribute. This benefit targets economically disadvantaged test-takers. If you are eligible, reach out to see what’s available. Check the start dates of the online programs to make sure you can complete everything on time.



University and Program Name Learn More

Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

Once lauded by US News & World Report as the emerging alternative to a pricey degree, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were not initially accepted by most AACSB-accredited institutions for viable academic credits. That’s starting to change as graduate and undergraduate degree partnerships with companies like EdX, Coursera, and Udacity allow students access to certified courses in subjects as diverse as international business, supply chain management, corporate finance, and information technology. Some schools are actively developing MOOC programs for their online programs to reduce costs for students.

You’ll have to do some detective work to see what’s available to you, but taking a few MOOCs before you’re officially enrolled likely won’t be as expensive as a formal degree program—and it will be much more flexible. Just understand the associated fee to complete the program and obtain the necessary certificate, which will be essential for you when using it to earn credits. Options for “stackable credentials” like this can vary widely and depend on the business programs, so do your homework. This option is best for highly motivated self-starters. The knock on MOOCs is that course completion rates are abysmal; most people who start them fail to finish. If you need a little prodding to study, MOOCs may not be for you.

Business administration classes at another institution

What’s true of MOOCs is also true of state colleges, public universities, or community colleges that offer online courses. Not all online MBA programs allow transfer credits, but some do. If your target school accepts transfer credits, you could complete some core courses at a less-expensive institution. If you need a basic cost management, project management, or business analytics class and a community college offers an online option, it could be a viable money-saver. Make sure to contact both institutions involved to ensure that your credits will transfer.

If you need to take foundational courses—pre-MBA courses that MBA students need to have completed as undergraduates, but you didn’t—you should be able to take those at any accredited institution. Find the least expensive option you can; your grades on these courses will not figure into your degree. You just need to get them out of the way so you can start your MBA. Complete them at the lowest possible cost.

Finally, look into online MBA programs offered by public universities in states with a relatively low cost of living, such as Georgia, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Many of these programs offer degrees at a correspondingly lower tuition rate. Some examples: Texas A & M University, Southern Arkansas University, the University of North Texas, Georgia College & State University, Eastern Illinois University, Fayetteville State University, Oklahoma State University, Louisiana Tech University, and the University of Central Arkansas all make the list of most affordable online MBA programs.

Lesser-known or unpublicized student discounts

Just because you’re not physically on campus doesn’t mean you’re edged out of all MBA savings opportunities. Do on-campus students get a discount at the school bookstore? You may be eligible as well. Are there secondhand programs either offered officially by the university or within student groups that allow you to purchase books and supplies? Are there free services like a school credit union, or discounted services in areas such as information technology? One of the challenges of not being on campus is that you miss out on the word-of-mouth that alerts students to unmarketed benefits.

Once you know other online students in your MBA program (or even those currently on campus), take the time to speak with them and get to know them. They may also know about discounts through the business school. You can communicate via Zoom, bulletin boards, Reddit and Quora, Facebook groups… the options are vast. A remote network is still a network, and most students understand the benefit of saving money during their business administration program and are willing to share information to get information.

Relevant, flexible part-time work

If you’re considering an online degree, you’ve probably already thought about employment—many people pursue an online MBA precisely because they’d like to keep working. It makes sense not to give up your primary source of income or work experience, while (depending on the cost) incurring tuition cost debt simultaneously. Additionally, some MBA students pursue employment opportunities with the college of business while they’re working. This might sound like a tall order: work, school, and a second job. It is likely not be feasible for students pursuing a full-time job and a full-time business administration curriculum online.

For those who can make the time, a job working at an applicable department with a professor can pull double duty as a source of income and an academic credit. You could also pick up more flexible work, like tutoring the GMAT or business strategy.

If you’re currently unemployed, a university job could be optimal. Some schools offer employees further discounts and savings. Just be careful not to overcommit. You may wind up having to reduce your course load to meet all your obligations, prolonging your education and increasing the cost.

Condensing the requirements of affordable online MBA programs

This is essentially the opposite of longer part-time programs. Does your MBA online program offer a year-long or 18 month program, or a more condensed version of a particular degree at a lower cost? If you’d like to fast-track your education and save money, you can: just know that everything is a balancing act. Taking a full-time course load and working full-time might get exhausting. A full-time business administration curriculum with a part-time job or jobs might be more feasible, but it depends on the balance between cost and income.

In essence, it comes down to the priorities: if you can afford to take your time and stretch out getting your affordable MBA over a few years, consider alternative ways to make money while you study. If you’d rather be done as soon as possible and back to your regular pre-degree work life—now with the business degree in hand and the potential to earn more money in management positions—consider how many classes you can squeeze in for a particular tuition rate. Use your decision-making and problem-solving skills now before you enroll.

An appropriate—not overly ambitious—workload

It’s a common challenge: an enthusiastic business student might want to cram in as much learning as possible. Most students who pursue this option burn out, unfortunately. Your strategy to complete the MBA as quickly and inexpensively as possible may end up costing you time and money.

So don’t consider the number of your classes so much as the value for those classes. What do you want to take that’ll be the most relevant and most useful to your work? How focused does your work need to be in relation to your ideal job post-school? What coursework do you absolutely need, which courses are dream classes, and which ones can you live without? There are still multiple opportunities to focus on concentrations within standard business school offerings. International business, organizational behavior, supply chain management, technology management: MBA graduates have many available specialization areas and career paths.

Approach the experience with a problem-solving, value-based mindset. How can you get the maximum value of your online MBA program at the least cost? A secondary result of this work is that you’ll be thinking critically about what you want to do after you graduate. If you haven’t already put serious thought into this, now’s the time. Once you begin thinking this way, you may see even more potential money-saving opportunities available to you.

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About the Author

Katherine J. Igoe is a full-time freelancer in Boston. She has direct experience working in education and higher ed, helping students make important academic decisions. Follow her, ask questions, or suggest story ideas on Instagram @kjigoe or on Twitter @kjigoe.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider


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