Home Online Business Blog A Free MBA: Sources of Graduate School Funding

A Free MBA: Sources of Graduate School Funding

14 Dec
Free MBA: A graduate student searches for funding options on a laptop

The pursuit of a graduate degree requires enormous determination and persistence. By the time you’re considering which MBA program to choose, you’ve already become an academic achiever and, very likely, a successful professional. You have clear goals, strong motivation, and education and experience working in your favor. It would be dreadful if the financial costs of a quality MBA program derailed your advancement and success.

They don’t have to, and you don’t have to accrue huge debt in order to complete your degree. There can be such a thing as a free MBA: one that’s fully funded by private and/or public entities who won’t expect you to mortgage your future in order to pay them back. Read on to get acquainted with several options for which you may qualify.

Fellowships and Grants

Fellowships and grants are forms of financial aid that don’t require repayment. Unlike need-based undergraduate scholarships, MBA fellowships and grants are typically awarded based on merit. Your undergraduate GPA, professional accomplishments and GRE or GMAT score may qualify you for these forms of support.1

Most fellowships and grants are awarded by business schools. Some schools automatically offer fellowship and/or grant aid when students are admitted, while others require separate application materials for it. Contact your business school’s financial aid office for details.

Graduate Scholarships

To get closer to that free MBA, look for scholarships. Like fellowships and grants, scholarship funds are not repaid. A 2021 article in US News & World Report2 quoted Gordon Berridge, associate director of admissions at a graduate business school in the northeastern United States, who said, "Most schools offer a number of merit MBA scholarships that don't involve a work component.” He noted that graduate scholarships are based on previous educational achievements, GMAT or GRE scores, and the student’s likely contributions to the incoming class.

Some businesses and professional associations offer MBA scholarships, as well. Such associations include:3

  • Forté Foundation for Women: Female business students, enrolled in one of 50+ partner schools, can apply for fellowships through this program
  • National Black MBA Association: Graduate students can compete in the National Black MBA Case Competition for the opportunity to win a $50,000 prize and gain access to job opportunities in business
  • Prospanica: Graduate business students of Hispanic or Latino heritage are eligible for a select number of scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $5,000

Educational banking giant Sallie Mae recommends customizing your search for graduate scholarships in multiple ways:4

  • By school: Many universities offer graduate scholarships from their own funds to attract students who have delivered the strongest academic performance
  • By field: If you’re entering a program where your expertise is in short supply—especially in the STEM areas—focus on graduate scholarships from corporations, professional organizations and foundations
  • By demographic: Graduate scholarships are available for specific populations, such as women and minorities, including African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans, as well as for foster children, first-generation college students, and non-traditional students who are cognitively and physically disabled
  • By region: National scholarships get more attention, but scholarship opportunities for students from your home state or region involve smaller candidate pools, which can increase your chances; ask your state’s Department of Education for information

Employer Sponsorship or Tuition Reimbursement

Objectively, of course, it won’t be a free MBA, but what if your boss paid for it? Many employers subsidize, in part or in full, the MBA degrees of top-performing employees. Such sponsorship typically comes with the expectation that the recipients will continue working for the company after graduation. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement when recipients—often established employees with positive work records—agree to meet certain obligations, such as earning strong grades in MBA courses, fulfilling professional commitments and continuing to work for the company for a set period of time. In addition, in some instances, an employer will provide a full or partial MBA scholarship to a highly impressive MBA candidate who promises to work for the company upon degree completion.5 While enormously beneficial to the graduate students involved, these approaches also help employers attract and retain desirable talent, promote from within and diversify their work forces.

In 2012, Aja Edmond earned her MBA from a prominent university on the west coast. She had received a full merit scholarship from pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly and Company, which paid for her MBA.

"In exchange, Eli Lilly asked that I work for them for a year as a strategist heading brand and marketing for the international launch of one of their major drugs," Edmond told US News & World Report. "In that one-year role, I was also paid a competitive salary. There were no other requirements. In total, I received a six-figure salary as well as all of my tuition, books and fees paid for."5

Edmond is the founder and chief brand officer of Everesse, an educational company that provides coaching to individuals and businesses. She observed that the MBA applicants she coaches are often unaware that corporate funds and fellowships exist. In order to offset the cost of a top-tier MBA program, she said, "it is absolutely worth finding these opportunities and applying" for them.5 If you’re employed full-time, ask your HR representative if your company offers educational assistance. In conducting a job search, look for opportunities with companies who offer tuition support.

A Salute to the Free MBA: Graduate School Funding for Veterans

The Post-9/11 GI Bill
In a 2019 article, the Military Times described the Post-9/11 GI Bill as, “a generous education benefit for the latest generation of service members and veterans. It includes payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for textbooks and supplies for up to 36 months.”6

You may be eligible for education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) if you meet at least one of these requirements:7

  • You served at least 90 days on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) on or after September 11, 2001
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service
  • You served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break in service) on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability
  • You’re a dependent child using benefits transferred by a qualifying Veteran or service member

If you’re a member of the Reserves who lost education benefits when the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) ended in November 2015, you may qualify to receive restored benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The Yellow Ribbon Program8
The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for higher out-of-state, private school, foreign school or graduate school tuition and fees that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.

You may be eligible for this program if you and your school meet these requirements:

  • You must qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the 100% benefit level and at least one of these must be true:
    • You served at least 36 months on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) and were honorably discharged
    • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service
    • You served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break) on or after September 11, 2001, and were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability
    • You’re a dependent child using benefits transferred by a Veteran (find out about transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits),
    • You’re a Fry Scholar (eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program on or after August 1, 2018)

Starting on August 1, 2022, you may become eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program if you’re currently an active-duty service member who qualifies at the 100% level (you already served on active duty for at least 36 months) or if you’re a spouse using the transferred benefits of an active-duty service member who meets these qualifications.

Your school must meet all of the following requirements:

  • It must be an institution of higher learning
  • It must offer the Yellow Ribbon Program
  • It must not have offered the Yellow Ribbon benefit to more than the maximum number of students in its agreement with the Veterans Administration
  • It must certify your enrollment with the Veterans Administration and provide Yellow Ribbon Program information

William & Mary is a Yellow Ribbon School.

Loan Forgiveness Programs

Admittedly, a loan doesn’t sound like a way to get a free MBA. Borrowing money provides a short-term solution accompanied by a long-term commitment: You’ll complete your degree before paying for it and then repay your loan(s) over time—unless you can secure loan forgiveness.

Some business schools allow students who work for nonprofits and the public sector after completing their MBAs to write off loan payments. The first such loan forgiveness program in this country was introduced by a Connecticut business school in 1986. By 2020, it had awarded over $9 million to more than 400 graduates,9 enabling them to pursue career opportunities in the public and nonprofit sectors—in policy, social justice and community activism—without carrying the burden of student loan payments.

Choose the MBA program with the best possible ROI.

Prepare for a revolutionary future as an innovative business leader. In the William & Mary Online MBA program, you’ll experience a meticulously crafted curriculum led by expert faculty whom The Princeton Review ranked #5 among Best Business Professors nationwide.10 Learn more about how you’ll gain the skills to maximize your earnings potential in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. To start moving your career ahead, speak with one of our Admissions Advisors today.

  1. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/pay-for-mba-business-school
  2. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/slideshows/10-ways-to-find-money-to-pay-for-an-mba
  3. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from salliemae.com/student-loans/graduate-school-information/ways-to-pay-for-graduate-school/paying-for-an-mba/
  4. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from salliemae.com/student-loans/graduate-school-information/graduate-school-scholarships/
  5. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/2019-11-04/how-to-find-private-companies-and-other-employers-that-pay-for-mba-degrees
  6. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from militarytimes.com/education-transition/2019/07/20/gi-bill-benefits-guide/
  7. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/post-9-11/
  8. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/post-9-11/yellow-ribbon-program/
  9. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from businessbecause.com/news/mba-degree/5442/mba-finance-unique-ways-fund-degree
  10. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from princetonreview.com/business/college-william-mary-raymond-mason-school-business-1010991
  11. Retrieved on December 9, 2021, from princetonreview.com/college/william---mary-1022846#!academics