Uncover the Hidden Costs of an MBA Education

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

Almost every business school publishes an official cost of attendance figure, but getting an MBA could cost you thousands more.

From experiential learning trips to club dues to interviewing for jobs, there are costs that your school may not advertise. And whether you’re applying to business school or have already been accepted, it’s up to you to plan for these fees.

Additionally, there are many costs that you may incur long before you get an acceptance letter. Many people overlook the true costs of the application process, or at least don’t have a complete picture.

The costs of researching schools, taking the GMAT and submitting your applications may seem obvious and easy to plan for. However, not so obvious costs of a great application include the price of visiting your target schools to strengthen your application, as well as traveling to events hosted by the schools’ admissions committees. If you use test prep services and admissions consultants, you could easily run up bills for several thousands of dollars before you even submit your applications.

When you do accept a spot in an MBA program, you’ll need to take a closer look at your chosen school’s COA calculation. This figure encompasses all of the costs that your school believes a student will incur in a given year, and is used to set the maximum amount of financial aid – in the form of scholarships or loans –  that your school will certify for your use.

However, you should take this figure with some caution. For instance, not every school includes the cost of living with a partner or supporting a dependent, and often do not cover the expenses associated with international courses and projects or other immersive learning experiences.

Another potential pitfall of COAs is that they only include expenses for the school calendar year. For many students, a key part of the MBA experience is a paid summer internship, often in another city or across the country, and its stipend may not cover transportation and moving expenses.

If you’re planning to take a lower-paying internship at a startup or nonprofit or potential start your own company over the summer, room and board costs alone may exceed your income for the summer. Remember that you may need to also purchase appropriate interview attire for landing that new gig.

There are certainly other expenses your COA may not cover. While these are largely tied to lifestyle costs, the value of building a strong social network of your MBA peers can’t be overstated.

Be critical when reviewing a school’s miscellaneous and even broad spending categories. If you join a handful of clubs, as nearly every MBA student does, note that dues run about $50 to $150 for each organization, and some club events may come with additional costs.

There are also the expenses of once-in-a-lifetime retreats, trips and dues for your class, cohort or section, not to mention dinners and drinks with new friends.

As one Harvard Business School student recalls, “I didn’t realize how much all of the club dues, trips and social events would add up. While they are technically optional, you don’t want to cut them out because they are part of the experience and they help build friendships.”

All these assorted extra fees don’t necessarily mean that an MBA isn’t worth it. Start creating your budget as soon as you’re accepted into your target program, and contact your financial aid office if you have any questions.

Financial aid officers can be a wonderful resource for new students. They are on your side, and have a lot of experience with a wide variety of different student financial situations. CommonBond, which lends to MBA students at many programs in the U.S., has a nifty calculator that allows you to add in additional costs to your COA and build a custom budget specific for your needs.

Also, vet your financial aid options and student loan lenders carefully so that you can rest assured that, if you do ultimately need to increase your spending during the year, you can do so hassle-free. Business school can be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience – there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it to the fullest if you go in with your eyes open.

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