So you've made the big decision and you're ready to commit to your MBA. You've got a long road ahead, and the first obstacle is the toll booth at the start. Some top-ranked schools have tuition in excess of $100,000. How can anyone without an MBA afford it?
Find a Fellowship
Many MBA schools offer fellowships for students with demonstrated financial need. These are much like scholarships, but come with a rich set of connections, from peer mentors, to alumni, to business leaders. You'll be in a great position for relationship building, which could help your career down the line.
Fellowships may require a commitment to service, be it research or teaching assistance, so they're typically restricted to grad students with strong skills. Fellowships are often renewable so long as you qualify, so get matched early and start networking.
Apply for Scholarships
You're probably familiar with scholarships from your undergrad. Scholarships can be needs-based or merit-based, and are generally used to cover tuition and other costs for post-secondary programs. Some are even renewable!
Most schools offer an array of scholarship opportunities, as do many companies. Look into scholarships from industries and organizations you'd like to work with some day. They might be looking for candidates just like you. Though most scholarships are focused on the undergraduate level, resources exist — including ScholarshipsCanada — to help you find those that match your particular MBA.
Become a Teaching Assistant (TA)
Sure, it's a job, but it's not just any job. You work for the school, helping instructors prepare and deliver classroom material. This is great for helping you retain and digest your own coursework. Like any job application, your potential employer will review your academic qualifications, your CV, and your suitability for the position.
You may have trouble securing a TA job in your first year. Some schools may allow you to TA for undergrads first, then move on to graduate courses. Building relationships with instructors is a good way to get your name to the top of the list.
Between attending lectures, grading papers, and holding office hours, expect to work roughly 20 hours a week. Wages and working hours are governed by your school's collective agreement with a union, so you should still have time for sleep — we hope!
Apply for a Line of Credit
Some banks offer specialized lines of credit for undergrad and graduate students. In basic terms, a line of credit is a loan that lets you borrow as much or as little as you like, up to a your pre-defined cap. You can pay it back any time, and you only have to pay interest on the money you actually borrow.
Student lines of credit may be more generous and flexible than others, too. In Canada, banks like RBC offer competitive rates, and give you a full two years after graduation before you start making interest payments. If you're studying outside of Canada, check with your bank, and see if they offer assistance programs for students going abroad, such as this one from RBC.
Because of the way interest is calculated, a line of credit could be a good way to close any last gaps in your funding.
Try for Employer Sponsorship
Do you work at a big company? Have a good relationship with your boss? Perhaps they might want to sponsor some of your MBA. Part-time or online MBAs are more likely to get funded by your workplace, because they let you work while you study.
When you approach your employer, be sure you're prepared. The more detail you can include in your pitch — including costs, timelines, and projected benefits — the more seriously you'll be taken. Funding your MBA is a business decision for your employer, so make it an easy one. Quantify your worth: demonstrate why you deserve a raise, and clearly show the expected ROI for the company. Prove your studies will help your employer's bottom line, and they just might kick in some funding.
Many employers will have stipulations before signing off, which may include your maintenance of a minimum GPA, your continued performance at work, and a contract ensuring you stay on board for a set term after your education is complete. Check with your company's HR department for specifics.
Check Out Crowdfunding
The internet age has brought with it many innovations, crowdfunding chief among them. Often used for art projects and medical expenses, crowdfunding has exploded over the last few years. Funding an MBA through the crowd is unorthodox, sure, but when you have a financial gap to close, why not try?
You'll need a dynamic, coherent presentation, and a compelling story to encourage strangers to invest. Think about rewards for backers, like thank you notes or t-shirts. If you're considering crowdfunding part of your tuition, read up on some success stories to get a sense of what you're in for.
Consider a Lifelong Learning Plan
If you're a Canadian with an RRSP, you can take advantage of the Lifelong Learning Plan. To fund your education, or that of your spouse (but crucially, not your children), you can withdraw savings from your RRSP, tax free. If you have the savings, you can withdraw $10,000 per year, to a maximum of $20,000, and you'll have up to 10 years to make repayments.
You may find this counter-productive: raiding your retirement fund for your education, only to then repay yourself. But look at it as an investment in your most important asset: you.
The only thing trickier than completing an MBA is paying for one. You'll probably have to find multiple sources of funding, be it scholarships, teaching assistance, fellowships, or even crowdfunding. Nothing worth doing is easy. Make an investment in yourself, work hard, and get what you want out of life.
Check out scholarships for master's level business students!