How to fund your US MBA dream

Written by Overseas Education Consultant and Study Abroad Career Counsellor in Mumbai, Karan Gupta



Finance is probably the most important factor that deters people from applying to B-Schools. If only students realised that many B-Schools in the US offer international students loans, scholarships and graduate assistantships, they would not think twice before applying to B-Schools.

One wonders what a university would gain from giving international students funding? Most universities value their international students more than their local students. The reasons are obvious: International students, especially Indians, are very hard working. Most of the B-School toppers in US universities are Indian students. B-Schools realise the value of having international students in their classrooms. International students usually have different viewpoints and often raise the intellectual level of discussion in classrooms. Having a culturally-diverse student body has added benefits for B- Schools. Many philanthropist Americans bequeath hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to B- Schools because the schools have diversity and claim to educate students from all over the world.

B-Schools offer funding to students in various forms. A common misconception is that financial aid is available to international students in all programmes except while pursuing an MBA. The reality is that graduate international students are not eligible for any financial aid. However, funding in the form of graduate assistantships (GA), scholarships, tuition waivers, loans etc. are available to all programmes, including the most sought after MBA.

A graduate teaching assistantship award expects the student to work 20 hours per week aiding a professor in teaching his or her class. A graduate research assistantship award expects the student to work 20 hours per week aiding a professor or laboratory in some kind of research. GAs are the most sought after awards, because most GAs would pay for the entire tuition of the student and the student would additionally get paid for the work he or she is doing. So practically, a student would be able to earn enough money to pay for his or her living expenses as well, making the student’s contribution to tuition 0%. GAs are awarded to students based on their academic achievements and prior work experience.

Tuition waivers and scholarships, on the other hand, do not expect the student to work and are awarded strictly on merit.


Says Brian O’Neil, director of admissions at Clarkson University, New York, “At Clarkson, all potential graduate students are evaluated in the same manner. For a quantitative measure, we look at the GPA for the last 60 credit hours of undergraduate work and the GMAT score. Additionally, we look at and evaluate everything else that we ask for including, letters of reference, the resume and the required essays. A review committee considers all applications.”


B-Schools like Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern (Kellogg) do not offer GAs or tuition waivers, but offer students 100% loans. Frequently, when a student is unable to pay the tuition fee (usually around $60,000 for the entire programme for these schools), these schools will co-sign a loan with the international student. The student would then have to arrange for only his or her living expenses. The reason why these B-Schools do not offer GAs is that they believe that their curriculum is so difficult, that a student would not be able to work for 20 hours per week and do well at the same time.


Schools like University of Georgia, University of Florida and Georgia State University offer students GAs in addition to tuition waivers and scholarships. Schools like Clarkson University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Maryland (College Park) offer 50% to 100% scholarships on their tuition. Naturally, the competition for these awards is fierce, but in the past, many deserving students have got full awards from these universities. The average GMAT score required for these awards is about 650. Also, the student should have maintained an unblemished academic record.


Students should also look at the possibility of getting on-campus jobs. Many Indian students in B- Schools fund part of their education through on-campus jobs. The US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) allows international students to work for 20 hours per week on campus. Students manage to get jobs ranging from libraries and computer laboratories to working in cafeterias. The minimum hourly wage set by the US government is $5.40, but MBA students usually earn wages ranging from $6 to $15, depending on the city and university they are in. The money the students earn from their on-campus jobs is usually sufficient to cover living expenses.


Nikita Agarwal, a student who received a full tuition scholarship from Bentley College and is in the US says, “I was an academically bright student who scored very well in my GMAT. Bentley College offered me a full tuition waiver and I was able to cover my living expenses by working on campus. I earned my degree with very little investment and I am glad that I decided to apply to B-Schools in the US. Today, I have a job offer from Leader Bank, Boston.”


Besides looking at the availability of GAs, tuition waivers and scholarships, students should carefully select the schools they are applying to. If a student applies to a B-School whose average GMAT is about 600 and the student’s GMAT is 610, the student is likely to get into the school (keeping work experience and past academic record as constant factors), but the school is unlikely to award any form of funding to the student as the student is not exceptional for this particular school. But, if this same student applies to a school where the average GMAT is about 500, the student has an excellent chance of getting funding from the school. Hence, research on universities before applying is crucial.


Private organisations and trusts in India are another source of funding for B-Schools. There are many community organisations in India that offer funding for students applying for an MBA degree. A list of these institutions can be found on the internet through various search sites. For instance, the Parsi community can approach the Parsi Panchayat for a list of organisations that give Parsi students scholarships for studies in the US.


Some students have even managed to get funding for their MBA programme by writing to professors in the schools that they have applied to. Many professors need students to help them with research and teaching and want to award GAs. Writing to them and informing them of your admission to the university and matching your research interests with theirs can sometimes result in a GA even before you leave India.


With the new Indian laws, the government has approved Rs 15 Lakh loans for students who wish to study overseas. As of now, these loans have a moderate interest rate of about 12% and need a strong (100-150%) collateral security to be approved. The repayment period for these loans is approximately 6 months after graduation or when you get a job, whichever comes first. If you do not want to pay such high interest rates, you can even opt for an International Student Loan through many US organisations such as the ISLP, the Terry Loan and so on. These loans have a comparatively lower interest rate of about 5% per annum and the repayment period is about 20 years. These loans do not require any collateral security but do need a US citizen or a green card holder to cosign the loan.


If you want to study in study in USA, don’t let finances get in your way. There are ample scholarship opportunities available to you in various forms. If you are an academically bright student with good grades and a ‘high enough’ GMAT score, you should be able to find a B-school willing to sponsor part or all of your education.


Karan Gupta is the leading international education and career consultant in Mumbai, India. Since 1999, he has given career counselling and has helped thousands of students with study abroad and get admission and visas to universities and colleges in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore and EU and also helps them get scholarships, loans and financial aid. In addition to aptitude tests and career counselling, his firm also provides training and coaching for the GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE exams. Karan Gupta is the best study abroad career / education consultant in Mumbai.


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