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HBCU Scholarships for MBA Students: How to Pay for Your MBA

A young professional engages with peers in an online MBA course. He smiles at his laptop while taking notes.

The prospect of paying top dollar for a Master of Business Administration keeps many talented and ambitious bachelor’s degree holders from applying to business school. MBA programs with six-figure price tags are standard, and figuring out how to pay for an MBA can be daunting. Student loans are almost always an option, and one Bloomberg Businessweek survey found that nearly half of students at top business schools in the United States borrowed at least $100,000 to finance MBAs. But anyone who already carries significant student debt may be wary of taking on more without knowing what the future holds. Conventional wisdom says that paying for an MBA with loans is worth it because the ROI of this degree is so high. It’s telling, however, that only 51 percent of MBA students graduate with student debt. That statistic may be the best possible proof that there’s more than one way to pay for an MBA.

If financial concerns have kept you from pursuing higher education, it’s time to take another look at your options (and eligibility). You can reduce the cost of an MBA substantially through scholarship programs, grants and other forms of financial aid, and more importantly, you don’t necessarily have to navigate these financing alternatives on your own. Students enrolled in Howard University School of BusinessOnline MBA (MBA) program work with financial aid advisors from admission through graduation who help them understand their options for securing financial assistance.

You probably have a lot of questions. This article can’t replicate the level of support Howard Online MBA students receive, but it can offer a glimpse into the guidance our advisors give Howard Online MBA candidates before and after enrollment. Below, we look at the many ways to pay for an MBA and how minority students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) can win more scholarship dollars.

How much does an online MBA cost?

The average cost of an online MBA tells us very little for three reasons:

  1. Tuition rates vary widely from program to program—even among highly ranked, prestigious MBA programs. Programs comparable to Howard’s 48-credit Online MBA can cost upwards of $140,000, while our program costs $1,896 per credit hour or about $91,000 total.
  2. Online MBA students don’t pay the full tuition cost all at once but rather over a period of years. Many continue to earn income while enrolled in part-time MBA programs online, allowing them to pay a portion of tuition out of pocket.
  3. Tuition isn’t the only expense MBA candidates have to cover. Students in most programs also pay fees as part of the MBA application process and for books and other materials. Keep in mind that many MBA candidates don’t pay the full advertised sticker price of this degree.

How can prospective students reduce the cost of an Online MBA?

Distance learners at most colleges and universities are eligible for the same financial aid resources as graduate and college students who pursue degrees on campus. Financial assistance for online MBA students takes many forms, including loans, federal grants, work-study programs, fellowships and scholarship programs. At Howard University, all incoming School of Business students can access federal financial aid resources commonly available to graduate students, including grants (which don’t need to be paid back) and loans (which may or may not begin accruing interest while you’re still in school).

When MBA students take out loans to finance their degrees, they typically leave programs with about $65,000 in debt. Many MBA grads see a substantial salary increase after graduation, and that can take the sting out of a hefty student loan, but the best way to pay for an online MBA is with funds you won’t need to pay back, i.e., employer contributions or scholarship funds.

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement or assistance for on-campus and online MBAs, but employer funding has steadily declined over the past two decades. Suppose you’re lucky enough to work for companies like Deloitte, Bank of America, Intel or Raytheon. In that case, you may be eligible for partial or total tuition reimbursement provided you remain at the company for a set number of years after graduation. If you don’t plan to stay at your current job after graduation, however, scholarships may be the best way to fund your Online MBA.

Scholarship awards are based on a wide variety of factors. Many colleges and universities use scholarships to court top students or to help deserving students from under-represented backgrounds finance their degrees. In cases like those, scholarship amounts are usually negotiable. Some MBA candidates automatically qualify for need-based scholarships offered by their schools but still have to apply for private need-based scholarships. There are also merit scholarships for MBA candidates with high GRE or GMAT scores, high undergrad grade point averages (GPA) and academic excellence, interesting extracurricular pursuits—like community service—or remarkable professional achievements in business or entrepreneurship. Some B-school scholarships are awarded based on the content of MBA essays or the strength of their letters of recommendation. There are also private scholarships reserved for specific minority or disadvantaged groups.

Scholarships often have dollar limits, and full-tuition scholarships are rare even as MBA admissions committees award more and bigger MBA scholarships. Most also come with restrictions related to how recipients can use funds. There’s no cap to the combined number of scholarship dollars you can receive.

Internal Howard Online MBA Scholarship Programs

Students pursuing Howard’s Online Master of Business Administration are eligible for multiple internal scholarships, including:

  • Howard School of Business Endowed Scholarships: Alumni, corporate partners and community members fund Howard School of Business Endowed Scholarships and HU awards them based on need, academic excellence, test scores, application materials, MBA essays and applicants’ contributions to their field of study.
  • Howard University Donor Scholarships: Graduate students in good standing who submit the brief Donor Scholarship application may qualify for multiple donor-funded scholarships.
  • The Howard University Endowed Scholarship for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Members: Full-time and part-time MBA candidates who are current or alumni members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and have a minimum GPA of 3.25 can apply for the Delta Founders and Past National Presidents Endowed Scholarship.

When you apply to Howard’s Online MBA program, application officers review your materials to determine if they align with current scholarship opportunities, and your Financial Aid Award Package may include some internal scholarships for which you didn’t apply. Be aware that students must report any additional aid they receive, including funds from external scholarships, to the Financial Aid Office. Outside assistance can change the amount of internal funding offered.

External Scholarships: What are External Scholarships?

Nonprofit organizations, private donors, corporations and individuals grant external scholarships. Awards range from a few hundred dollars to full tuition, and the criteria applicants must meet varies broadly. Some are granted based on need or merit, and others are based on identity, interests, heritage or career goals. The application process may be as simple as filling out a short survey and submitting a copy of your MBA essay or as involved as completing a specific philanthropic project in your local community.

Some external scholarships are open to all students, but most have restrictions. Many funders only accept applications from students who attend partner institutions. Other scholarships are earmarked for full-time students, minority students, undergraduates or students studying specific subjects (STEM scholarships, for example). There are even some scholarships just for HBCU students. Always be sure you meet the eligibility criteria before submitting scholarship applications so you can maximize the value of the time you’ll invest in researching and applying for scholarships.

And it will take time if your goal is to pay for your Online MBA with scholarship dollars. “I’ve always been one to encourage students to seek out scholarship awards as if it were a part-time job,” HU Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Anthony E. Jones told U.S. News and World Report in an article about scholarships for Black students.

Scholarships Open to HBCU, Black and Howard Online MBA Students

Finding scholarships open to students in online graduate-level programs, students in part-time MBA programs and minority graduate students can be highly challenging. These links can get you started and help guide your future scholarship searches:

  • The National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) awards two $10,000 scholarships and one $5,000 scholarship to current members pursuing MBAs at Howard University School of Business.
  • The Hennesey Fellows scholarship awards high-achieving graduate students from HBCUs up to $20,000 per academic year for up to two years plus a one-time $10,000 stipend.
  • The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) teams up with corporate and nonprofit partners to offer merit and need-based scholarships to students attending TMCF member-schools like Howard University.
  • UNCF awards more than $100 million to HBCU scholars each year. While Howard isn’t one of UNCF’s partner HBCUs, some UNCF scholarships are open to HU students.

Entire websites exist to help students find scholarships, like:

Because scholarships for part-time MBA students are relatively rare, however, you may have better luck working with one of Howard School of Business’ financial aid advisors when you’re searching and applying for scholarships.

Scholarship Application Tips

The two most important things you can do when your goal is to fund your Online MBA with scholarships are committing to putting in the work and starting early. Identifying the scholarship funds best suited to your needs and background takes time. Writing compelling scholarship essays and polishing your other application materials takes almost as much. Starting your scholarship search early means you can start the application process early. You’ll avoid missed deadlines and possibly increase your chances of securing more scholarship dollars. Some funding programs review applications as they’re submitted and may be more generous during the early weeks of the application period.

Treat applying for scholarships like a second job. Set aside time each day to work on your scholarship applications. Create a spreadsheet of scholarships you’re eligible for, including deadlines, requirements, award amounts, and links to each application. Keep track of essay prompts and word limits carefully when writing scholarship essays. Make a note of which applications you’ve completed and when you can expect to find out whether you’ve been awarded funds.

Don’t let the possibility of rejection slow your momentum. The most successful scholarship applicants are also the most resilient. They understand that getting rejected by a scholarship review board indicates nothing at all about their intelligence or worth. They know that there was simply a more suitable candidate for that scholarship. And they re-apply during the next application cycle.

Remember, this isn’t the time to be humble or to worry about overstating your accomplishments. Be specific and be proud. The people and committees reviewing your scholarship applications want to give money to MBA students who have the potential to do great things. Your job is to show them what you’ve accomplished so far and how much you plan to achieve in the future—just like you did when you applied to Howard’s Online MBA program.

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