MBA Life: Finances. How we afford business school.

People are naturally curious about our lifestyle.

  • Are you living off of student loans?
  • Do you have to eat ramen noodles every night?
  • Did you guys have to accumulate a massive amount of debt to finance business school?

The answer to all the above is no. However experiences vary.

According to Poets & Quants the total cost of an MBA at the Cornell Johnson School of Business is $142,404. Ouch. It hurts so much to see it right in front of me in black and white. Obviously we aren't rich but we're making it work.

Here's how:

Sacrifice - My husband and I met at a diversity event for prospective students at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. We had clearly defined goals for our educations and careers. Life sometimes got in the way but we never ventured too far off the path.

My husband and I made conscious decisions about how we would (and would not) spend our money. We spent almost a year without a car while living in Burlington, Vermont. We walked to the bus stop and rode the bus for ten minutes to work. I remember the bitter chill of the Lake Champlain wind enveloping me and begging my husband to kill me. Just kill me. Put me out of my misery. IT IS TOO DAMN COLD TO LIVE.

The good old days.

People thought we were broke. Nope. Thrifty! We saved our money, found an awesome deal on an SUV, and paid that car in full in less than a year. All that sacrifice equals no car payment while in business school.

There were other sacrifices as well. We chose not to have a wedding. Not necessarily out of frugality but more because it just isn't our thing. It saved us a ton of money. We got married in front of a schoolbus turned cheeseburger stand by a justice of the peace in front of Lake Champlain. It was perfect and cheap.

We were careful with money and saved up enough to cover our living expenses for two years.

Loans - Can't really avoid them. Thankfully there are a ton of options for graduate students. Try to keep your credit as clean as you can. Unfortunately you'll probably be piling these new loans on top of existing undergraduate loans and that can be scary. We use loans as a last resort. For instance we're studying/traveling abroad in London next year and are financing that out of our personal budget. If we had to take out more loans to cover the expense I'm not sure the return on our investment would outweigh the interest we would accrue on the loans. It's hard to quantify but I like avoiding another monthly bill when possible.

Be mindful of the lending options presented to you and use loans as a last resort. If you can avoid them. Do so. Sounds like common sense but plenty of people sign on those dotted lines without exploring alternatives.

Scholarships - There are many incredible organizations and associations that have a lot to offer students. The one I am most familiar with is The Consortium. They award "merit-based, full-tuition fellowships to America’s best and brightest candidates".

My husband wasn't one of the chosen few (boourns) but we know several of the incredibly accomplished and well deserving people who are fellows. It's a great place to be. My husband received a generous scholarship from his school and we are thankful. It definitely helps.

Don't forget to research the Consortium and similar organizations if you're a prospective. Each school has its own scholarship system too. It never hurts to try and most applications are straight forward and simple. The more money you have in the bank the more stress free fun you can have during your B-school experience. Plan ahead.


A six figure tuition bill is a scary thing. Don't get overwhelmed. With careful planning business school is possible. It's a fantastic investment in your family's future and 100% worth it. Make it happen. 


OH! I wrote a post for MBA Social called 3 Signs You Aren't Ready for MBA Life. I would love it if you checked it out.