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20 Best Business Schools for Avoiding Massive MBA Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

You’ve weighed the costs, risks, and rewards of a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and decided it’s a smart next step for you.

Earning an MBA can open doors to opportunities such as higher pay and more senior company positions. Typical earnings for MBA graduates three years after completing the degree were a high $142,000 in 2016, according to MBA school rankings from the Financial Times.

But before you can focus on maximizing your post-MBA earnings, you need to figure out how to pay for your degree.

That’s why LendingTree analyzed 116 business schools to identify the 20 programs where graduates can most easily avoid student debt and afford to repay it. Among these top-ranked MBA programs, tuition costs are low, students avoid huge MBA debt, and graduates command high pay relative to student loans.

Find out if one of the following top 20 business schools is right for you.

MBA program rankings: 20 best business schools with high ROI

The two biggest reasons MBA applicants said they’d decide against attending an MBA program were cost-related, according to the Graduate Management Association Council’s (GMAC) 2017 survey of prospective MBA students:

  • 52 percent worried about not being able to afford the costs.
  • 47 percent were concerned about taking out huge student loans.

Those concerns were well-founded given the average MBA debt for new grads — $53,000, according to Bloomberg. The outlet also estimated the “real cost” of a two-year MBA, including tuition, living expenses, and forgone wages, at a whopping $248,000.

By finding the best MBA loans and attending one of the MBA programs on the following list, it will help you optimize the return on investment of earning a master’s degree by minimizing the debt you owe.

1. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $19,350
  • MBA graduates with debt: 0 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $0
  • Average starting compensation: $86,667

2. Oklahoma City University

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $16,230
  • MBA graduates with debt: 9 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $11,331
  • Average starting compensation: $101,090

3. University of Texas — Dallas

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $19,048
  • MBA graduates with debt: 25 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $7,132
  • Average starting compensation: $83,000

4. Missouri University of Science and Technology

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $15,402
  • MBA graduates with debt: 19 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $11,386
  • Average starting compensation: $66,667

5. Oklahoma State University (Spears)

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $12,121
  • MBA graduates with debt: 22 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $18,728
  • Average starting compensation: $70,700

6. University of Missouri (Trulaske)

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $14,599
  • MBA graduates with debt: 20 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $20,495
  • Average starting compensation: $64,252

7. Florida State University

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $18,693
  • MBA graduates with debt: 31 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $14,379
  • Average starting compensation: $67,308

8. West Virginia University

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $9,450
  • MBA graduates with debt: 33 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $18,608
  • Average starting compensation: $58,488

9. Louisiana State University — ​Baton Rouge (Ourso)

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $17,800
  • MBA graduates with debt: 27 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $17,900
  • Average starting compensation: $62,429

10. West Texas A&M

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $9,600
  • MBA graduates with debt: 54 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $18,500
  • Average starting compensation: $93,625

11. University of Mississippi

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $13,500
  • MBA graduates with debt: 28 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $24,806
  • Average starting compensation: $65,300

12. University of Florida (Hough)

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $14,859
  • MBA graduates with debt: 38 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $34,426
  • Average starting compensation: $115,664

13. San Diego State University

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $14,446
  • MBA graduates with debt: 15 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $29,066
  • Average starting compensation: $61,467

14. New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $22,690
  • MBA graduates with debt: 17 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $29,637
  • Average starting compensation: $78,167

15. University of Wisconsin — ​Whitewater

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $9,504
  • MBA graduates with debt: 67 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $8,000
  • Average starting compensation: $57,000

16. University of California — ​Riverside (Anderson)

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $29,124
  • MBA graduates with debt: 7 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $41,805
  • Average starting compensation: $103,041

17. University of Connecticut

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $15,368
  • MBA graduates with debt: 37 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $34,161
  • Average starting compensation: $107,648

18. University of South Dakota

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $8,818
  • MBA graduates with debt: 31 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $23,250
  • Average starting compensation: $53,417

19. University of Texas of the Permian Basin

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $6,482
  • MBA graduates with debt: 53 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $18,634
  • Average starting compensation: $60,750

20. University of North Texas

  • Annual MBA tuition and fees: $9,327
  • MBA graduates with debt: 36 percent
  • Average MBA debt balance: $29,867
  • Average starting compensation: $70,036

3 strategies for getting an MBA without the debt

Private student loans can be a great way to cover the costs of graduate school. But limiting how much you borrow is the most reliable way to ensure you can repay MBA debt quickly. But you’ll need to carefully choose cost-effective schools — like those listed in the MBA program rankings above.

You can cut costs further by following these three strategies.

1. Pursue scholarships, grants, and fellowships

Your net price for an MBA program could be significantly lower if you can snag money through financial aid such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships.

There will be some tough competition for these types of financial aid, however. According to the GMAC survey, full-time MBA students expected to get around 30 percent of their MBA funding from grants, fellowships, and scholarships.

On the other hand, the GMAC survey also noted that business schools have been seeing fewer applicants overall. With a smaller pool of applicants, MBA programs are more likely to compete for top candidates and offer financial incentives such as institutional aid.

To give yourself the best chance of paying less, apply to a few business schools and pursue multiple forms of financial aid. Then compare your total financial aid package and real costs at each school.

An MBA program with higher tuition could cost less if it comes with more scholarships or a generous fellowship.

2. Earn money and an MBA at the same time

Many business schools are providing more flexible options for earning an MBA. Part-time programs and online MBAs can be a smart choice for students looking to earn a paycheck and a graduate degree at the same time.

Flexible MBA options can help make a degree more affordable in few ways:

  • You can stretch out your MBA costs. Annual tuition will be lower for a part-time program.
  • You can continue working and earning money. In other words, you can afford to pay as you go. By holding down a job and stretching out tuition, you might be able to cover costs out of pocket and avoid debt altogether.
  • You can get your employer to pay some of your MBA costs. Many benefits packages include educational stipends or tuition reimbursements. Talk to your employer and see if it offers these benefits or would be willing to do so.

3. Consider a one-year MBA program

Many business schools offer alternatives to the traditional full-time, two-year MBA. A one-year MBA will help you graduate faster and earn the six-figure pay common for MBA holders sooner.

Interested applicants should be aware that one-year MBAs often have more specific application requirements. You’ll likely need to have a business-focused undergraduate degree to meet prerequisite requirements, according to Poets & Quants.

One-year MBA programs also tend to offer lower total tuition and enrollment costs than two-year programs. In fact, compared to a two-year MBA, the total costs of a one-year MBA can represent a savings of 25 to 50 percent.

A one-year MBA program can be a smart but intense option. You’ll need a lot of stamina and a sterling work ethic to keep up. But if the reward is saving tens of thousands of dollars and getting a jump-start on your career, it could be a bet worth taking.

With some creativity and dedication, students can limit their MBA debt. The MBA application process is long and intensive — but your work doesn’t stop there. Devote the same amount of time, energy, and research to figuring out how to pay for business school.

RankBusiness SchoolAverage IndebtednessPercentage of graduates with debtAnnual tuition and feesAverage starting compensation
1Lehigh University$00%$19,350$86,667
2Oklahoma City University$11,3319%$16,230$101,090
3University of Texas —​ Dallas$7,13225%$19,048$83,000
4Missouri University of Science and Technology$11,38619%$15,402$66,667
5Oklahoma State University (Spears)$18,72822%$12,121$70,700
6University of Missouri (Trulaske)$20,49520%$14,599$64,252
7Florida State University$14,37931%$18,693$67,308
8West Virginia University$18,60833%$9,450$58,488
9Louisiana State University—​Baton Rouge (Ourso)$17,90027%$17,800$62,429
10West Texas A&M$18,50054%$9,600$93,625
11University of Mississippi$24,80628%$13,500$65,300
12University of Florida (Hough)$34,42638%$14,859$115,664
13San Diego State University$29,06615%$14,446$61,467
14New Jersey Institute of Technology$29,63717%$22,690$78,167
15University of Wisconsin —​ Whitewater$8,00067%$9,504$57,000
16University of California —​ Riverside (Anderson)$41,8057%$29,124$103,041
17University of Connecticut$34,16137%$15,368$107,648
18University of South Dakota$23,25031%$8,818$53,417
19University of Texas of the Permian Basin$18,63453%$6,482$60,750
20University of North Texas$29,86736%$9,327$70,036
21Lamar University$32,11820%$5,365$55,000
22University of Georgia (Terry)$34,02543%$15,670$108,321
23University of Arizona (Eller)$44,65421%$24,100$109,219
24University of Cincinnati (Lindner)$29,43733%$20,958$77,606
25Brigham Young University (Marriott)$38,35553%$12,310$121,655
26Auburn University (Harbert)$32,62816%$23,988$65,558
27Temple University (Fox)$27,77041%$28,512$99,539
28Arkansas State University — ​Jonesboro State$38,00035%$9,414$74,500
29Binghamton University —​ SUNY$24,77942%$16,776$63,808
30University of Iowa (Tippie)$44,58330%$23,234$106,061
31Purdue University—​West Lafayette (Krannert)$43,35533%$22,418$105,524
32University of Tennessee — ​Knoxville (Haslam)$36,37832%$19,894$79,893
33Xavier University (Williams)$28,64633%$19,188$62,443
34University of Massachusetts —​ Amherst (Isenberg)$30,46446%$16,087$74,134
35Mercer University —​ Atlanta (Stetson)$17,17260%$19,632$62,500
36St. John’s University (Tobin)$28,29121%$29,160$59,276
37Jacksonville University$30,33435%$18,480$62,500
38University of Texas —​ El Paso$27,32553%$11,940$64,714
39Arizona State University (Carey)$49,85934%$29,150$122,250
40Stetson University$28,75742%$24,216$72,500
41Michigan State University (Broad)$55,66626%$30,600$121,775
42North Carolina State University (Jenkins)$40,47335%$25,152$90,500
43St. Bonaventure University$19,45554%$17,592$50,000
44University of Southern Indiana$49,88740%$8,854$84,100
45La Salle University$21,42949%$24,570$55,867
46SUNY —​ Oswego$16,67765%$16,883$48,000
47University of Massachusetts — ​Dartmouth$31,82413%$15,312$40,800
48University of California —​ Davis$52,03927%$38,836$115,176
49University of Washington (Foster)$32,04763%$33,339$133,299
50University of Tampa (Sykes)$41,51730%$23,730$70,796

Methodology

LendingTree surveyed 116 MBA programs and ranked them by factors indicating students’ likelihood to avoid student debt:

  1. The ratio of the average MBA debt balance to the average starting compensation
    • Average indebtedness figures sourced from the U.S. News & World Report education rankings
    • Compensation calculated as average starting salary (plus average signing bonus when listed) and sourced from the MBA program’s site or U.S. News & World Report listing if not provided by the college
  2. Portion of students graduating with MBA debt, sourced from U.S. News & World Report
  3. Annual 2017-18 in-state tuition and fees, sourced from each college’s site, normalized to assume two terms per year of attendance and 12 credit hours per term

Rankings weighted the first factor at half and the remaining two factors at a quarter each. All data was sourced August 28-31, 2017.

 

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