Financing a degree that costs around $200,000 is a daunting task, and personal finance can be a challenging topic to discuss among young professionals. We know how hard it is to start this conversation, so before we show you how to pay for your MBA in our upcoming webinar, we’d like to share the perspective of Sonya*, a Columbia Class of 2015 MBA. Here’s how she’s thought about financing her MBA since the time she was first admitted and how she’d revisit her strategy with a second chance.
First, here’s more on Sonya’s background: She came to business school with an audit background from a New York City firm and “felt fine about [her] finances, comfortable enough” when she decided to apply for her MBA. She knew she’d be paying her own way through school. She chose her schools based on location, opting for East Coast programs in order to have better access to New York’s tech startup scene. Sonya submitted her three applications in Round 2 and ultimately received her acceptance to Columbia Business School in February. By April, she decided to attend and put down an approximately $2,500 deposit for tuition.
“For two months, I was basking in the glow of ‘hey, I’m going to business school,’” Sonya said. “Then the financial aid office rained on my parade.” Columbia’s financial aid office reached out in June to remind Sonya of loan application deadlines and upcoming payment due dates, and that’s when the cost finally clicked. “I hadn’t really thought of financing until then,” said Sonya. “It certainly wasn’t a factor in my school selection at all,” though she did make sure she applied before Round 3 in order to be eligible for scholarships at her target schools.
Sonya quickly crunched the numbers and reviewed her existing savings, including brokerage accounts and retirement savings. She decided to use student loans to cover all of her tuition costs and her savings to pay for her living expenses, keeping some retirement and brokerage accounts intact to provide a cushion post-MBA.
After one year as an active MBA student at Columbia – “I loved it!” – Sonya sat down to review her finances again, this time with a crystallized career objective: join one of a handful of NYC fintech startups after graduation. After both summer and in-school internships, Sonya had a realistic idea of what her salary would be on this career track, and salary, she advised, is a number that all prospective MBAs should start with when planning to finance their degrees.
“I can still join a startup despite my loan burden, but everyone’s situation is different of course,” Sonya said. The savings she hadn’t touched as an MBA would become a big asset in transitioning to her full-time role.
Now that Sonya is just weeks away from graduating Columbia, what’s her advice for new MBAs? “Think about the costs much earlier than I did, perhaps before even applying for school or taking your GMAT. Think, ‘What’s the financial cost involved, and am I pursing a field that will be able to sustain this debt? Is it worth it to get an MBA?’” Sonya has realized that while she’ll be able to pursue her target salary within her preferred startups, there’s a wide, wide range of startup salaries out there for MBAs, and she’s encountered peers who will need to make tough decisions about their chosen paths come graduation given their student loan costs. Also, Sonya advises new admits to think about financing earlier in order to leave time for a scholarship hunt. In her own experience, starting this search during the June before matriculation eliminated the majority of her potential outside scholarship options.
“For me, it was an amazing two years, and I wouldn’t have changed my decision at all,” she said. “But while I’m okay financially, I should have been more proactive and really looked at my salary after graduation when deciding to get my MBA.”
*Name changed at interviewee’s request.
Kaitlin Butler is Content Manager at CommonBond, a student lending platform that provides a better student loan experience through lower rates, superior service, a simple application process and a strong commitment to community. CommonBond is also the first company to bring the 1-for-1 model to education and finance.