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6 ways to cover the cost of an executive MBA

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The cost of an executive MBA is substantial. Between tuition, fees, and the possibility of earning less income while you’re a student, the financial impact can be significant. But not every payment needs to come straight from your pocket. 

Before you enroll (or even before you decide to apply), it’s worth considering all ways that you can cover the cost of a program. This article covers 6 strategies to help decrease the burden of executive MBA fees and tuition.

1. Choose the most cost-effective program for your personal situation

As I began reviewing MBA programs to write this article, my intuition told me that physician executive MBAs would be more expensive than general executive MBAs. Boy was I wrong. Take a look at these price tags.

Variability in cost of different MBA program types

The cost of physician executive MBA programs ranges from around $55,000 to $85,000.

This is about twice to 3x the cost of a “regular” online MBA at a well-ranked school, which usually costs somewhere in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. That seems to make sense.

But general executive MBAs are a different ball game. Though the least expensive (Brigham Young University Executive MBA) is a reasonable $47,600, an executive MBA at several of the most highly ranked schools will cost you well over 100 grand or more. The most expensive is Wharton’s executive MBA program, which costs $210,900.

The significant variation appears to be due to differences in-state versus out-of-state tuition, as well as whether the listed price includes:

  • Course materials
  • Various fees
  • Room and board for onsite sessions
  • Travel costs for offsite sessions or trips abroad
  • Social and networking events

At Wharton, for example, the hefty price tag includes lodging at an upscale hotel for all required in-person courses, gourmet meals, all fees, and more.

Because costs listed on school websites are variable as to what they include aside from actual tuition, it’s important to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples to when you’re trying to make a decision about cost-effectiveness.

How to select an MBA program with cost in mind

In the personal finance space, a common recommendation to keep expenses down is to live somewhere with a low cost of living. Similarly, you can keep the costs of an MBA program down by selecting a program with lower tuition than most others.

Before you jump to choosing the cheapest program, consider what you’re hoping to reap from an MBA program. Do you just want the letters behind your name, or are you seeking a world-class education?

How much value do you place on making connections and building a professional network?

Do you expect a curriculum that offers a hands-on, real-world education, or would you be happy will simply acquiring a basic set of skills to take on an administrative position in healthcare?

To determine what cost is acceptable for your personal situation, you may also want to consider total program length and cost per course credit.

And, of course, your career goals.

Once you’ve asked all those questions and considered the numerous relevant components, you can go ahead and factor in price to your decision of where to apply.

2. Get your employer to pay for or reimburse the cost of your MBA

One of the reasons that top executive MBA programs get away with charging so much is that many of the students aren’t responsible for the cost. It’s common for employers to sponsor organizational leaders who will go on to use their newfound knowledge to benefit the company.

The Executive MBA Council reports that 20% of students have tuition paid for in full by their employers. Another 34% have a portion of tuition covered.

Taking advantage of an existing tuition reimbursement program

To get started in exploring employer coverage as a strategy in paying for a physician executive MBA, scan through your employee benefits manual and company policies. This may spell out all the information you need. However, it’s more likely that it will say something vague like, “A tuition reimbursement program is available to full-time employees.” If you’re unclear about whether there is an official tuition coverage program in place, contact HR.

Assuming there’s no formal tuition reimbursement policy in place or that the program falls short of what’s required for an executive MBA program, you need to ask for tuition coverage or an exception to the standard benefit.

Making a case for an employer-sponsored Executive MBA

Write up a proposal that describes what you’re asking for and how the company will benefit from the training you’ll receive.

Many MBA schools assist with this process by offering letter templates and written processes to help you explain the ROI to your employer.

Be detailed in what it is your asking for. If you state that an MBA is “just something you’re considering,” then your employer is unlikely to get beyond the consideration phase of sponsorship. On the other hand, if you have a concrete plan for your education, a solid rationale, and a reasonable timeframe, they’re more likely to take you seriously.

Getting creative with employee benefits

Many employers are simply unable or unwilling to sponsor physicians for an executive MBA. Others will only be able to cover a small portion of the total cost. In these cases, be sure you’re taking full advantage of all employee benefits to assist you in the financial burden of an MBA program.

As an example, some physician executive MBA programs offer CME credits for certain sessions. This may qualify as an acceptable use of your CME fund and time off.

3. Apply for scholarships and fellowships

Of the 46% of executive MBA students whose employers don’t cover some or all of the tuition, many can take advantage of financial aid or tuition assistance.

Scholarships from the MBA program

Almost 59% of executive MBA programs offer fellowships or scholarships, says the executive MBA council.

Hult’s part-time Executive MBA program is an example of a program that has a number of merit-based scholarships available. Most are geared toward a certain subset of students, such as:

  • The Social Impact Scholarship
  • The Women in Business Scholarship
  • The Global Professional Scholarship

Some programs have scholarships for which enrollees are automatically considered. Other scholarships require a special application. Contact the financial aid office to make sure you’re aware of all the options and requirements.

Some schools also have need-based scholarships. While most doctors won’t qualify, it’s worth checking out.

External scholarships

Executive MBA students are not eligible for most graduate scholarships offered through third-party organizations; however, there are some out there, so do some searching.

Check into essay scholarships, religious organizations, and your state of residence.

Most of these are not more than a couple thousand dollars. But they are easy to apply for, so probably worth your time. As with job applications, though, don’t rush through your application. Be thoughtful to increase your chances of being selected.

Here are two scholarships to take a look at:

4. Apply for loans and financial aid

Executive MBA students can qualify for several types of loans, some of which can cover the full cost of tuition.

Stafford loans. These are federal direct loans that have a fixed interest rate and are unsubsidized. To obtain these, you must return to your roots and fill out a FAFSA.

Direct graduate PLUS loans. These are designed for graduate students but have a higher fixed-interest rate than Stafford loans.

School-funded financial aid. Some MBA programs may offer financial aid. As with scholarships, you’ll need to contact the financial aid office to get the full details.

State aid. Some states offer graduate student aid.

Private loans. Organizations such as Sallie Mae offer graduate school loans.

Family members. Some students may have family members willing to loan tuition money.

5. Defer your tuition

Some executive MBA programs have a tuition deferment program. This may be a good choice if you expect a higher salary once you obtain your MBA.

Even if there isn’t a true deferment program, there may be some flexibility with the payment schedule. Some programs will require that large chunks of the tuition be paid upfront, while others permit students to pay in smaller portions as courses are taken.

6. Work while you study to cover your tuition

One of the benefits of executive MBA programs over traditional MBA programs is that they are designed to accommodate the schedules of working professionals. You’re expected to be working while you’re in school.

You may be able to factor the cost of an MBA into your budget and cover it yourself through employment income, side gig income, living like a resident, and carefully budgeting your expenses.

A strategy to use along with this is delaying your MBA program enrollment for a few years and saving a portion of your income for MBA tuition.

Is a physician executive MBA worth the cost?

Physicians shouldn’t go to school for an MBA unless they feel it is an investment that will pay off. Do your research before applying to determine this, as best you can. Ask yourself:

  • How the MBA will help you achieve your career goals
  • What increase in job title and salary you can expect as a result of your MBA
  • How an MBA will likely change your career trajectory
  • The decrease in the income you expect due to working less while you’re a student

Consider other ways that an MBA will “pay off” or be a financial burden. Each physician’s situation is unique and the decision is a personal one.

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