The thought of going back to school full time after being in the work force is daunting. Going back to school part time is a great free option for those with employers who foot the bill. For me, the thought of working, going to school and parenting sounds exhausting. Many people suck it up and do it. What about the career changer who wants to go back to school full time? Is it possible to obtain an full time MBA for free?
Yes, I did and you can too.
The competition will be extremely hard for top 20 schools. If you have your eyes set on going to a top 20 school, this post won’t be of interest to you. If you are a career switcher, with an eye on a school where your favorite employer recruits from, then this is for you.
I knew I would never have the GMAT scores, academics, network or sterling application package to get into a premier school. I decided to set my sites lower. Specifically targeting schools looking to grow their headcount with less competition and more chance of getting a full ride.
Cost of an MBA
A top 20 MBA program costs over $100,000 in tuition alone. Add in housing, books and lost wages and you are figuring over $200,000 in expenses. The investment will pay off over time with the starting salary at those schools usually is over $125,000. Not bad, but not the purpose of this post. The purpose is to focus on how to get a full time MBA for free.
I obtained my MBA from a private school that focused on engineering and business. The cost was a little over $1,100 per credit hour and I ended up taking 44 credit hours. The total tuition was about $48,000 plus books and living expenses. Lets say for two years I would have needed about $90,000 to pay for college. I paid none of this.
My MBA for Free Story
Now this may come as a surprise to many readers, but you can find a free ride from an accredited university if you look closely. Here is what I did to find my target school.
- Investigate which schools offer financial aid paid positions while you go to school full time. These roles could come in the form of business analyst, research assistant or graduate assistance
- Find schools that are actively looking to grow their full time MBA program.
- Apply to a handful of great schools within an hour of our home (when living in the northeast you’d be surprised how many there are.)
- Inquire about these roles if they don’t give them to you when you are accepted. You may be surprised how far you get just asking.
- Follow up with the Department Head and request an interview.
- Explain how much you want the role as part of your educational experience. (They want people who want it!)
I decided on the school and they immediately qualified me for a research assistant role. This role was good and paid a stipend, but did not provide tuition credits. I called and said I was thankful for the offer, but I couldn’t commit unless I had a business analyst role. I was required to work 20 hours per week in exchange for 10 free credit hours per semester plus a stipend.
The admissions department was not willing to listen to my request for the role. Now I knew that they were trying to increase there overall GMAT scores and mine was well above their average. At this point my negotiation wasn’t working and wasn’t sure it was really in admissions control.
I utilized my personal and professional network and contacted the department head to inform her of my interest in the business analyst role. I asked if she would be willing to interview me for the role.
She agreed and the rest was history. Free MBA. The position was fantastic, I consulted with hundreds of local small business owners. I learned more in this role than I did over the course of the MBA and ignited a burning desire to pursue entrepreneurship.
Was the MBA for Free Worth My Time
I gave up about $90,000 of pre MBA salary for two years. However, with this role I got 10 free credits every semester. On top of that they paid a stipend. I can’t remember exactly what the amount was, but somewhere near $15 to $20 an hour. It was enough to live like a college student again. Working part-time more than made up for my lost full time salary as a software engineer.
Upon graduation, my initial salary result was a bit below my expectations. The average MBA starting right out of school at this university was $75,000. My results were slight under this. However, I had just two years of work experience before obtaining the degree. Here were my results:
- Starting salary $20,000 higher than my previous full time job
- Five year salary $70,000 higher than my original full time job
- Ten year salary $110,000 higher than my original full time job
Its really hard to say if my how much the MBA impacted my career growth. I will say one unequivocal thing, it has opened many doors that were closed to me.
- The MBA program and institution landed me my target job at a large consulting company.
- The accreditation helped me get promoted as a manager and then director.
- The designation provides an edge for every job application and interview I go on
- The background knowledge laid a foundation for life long learning of investments.
- The coursework and business analyst position planted entrepreneurial seed for which I am on the cusp of starting my own consulting company.
- Established a great network of alumni to call on, if needed.
I would absolutely do it again.
Have you thought about going back to school? Would take out debt to do it?