There's more to graduate financial aid than the federal government, although it does offer some of the best loans and terms around. However, even the government can't necessarily get you everything you need to get that MBA you're after, so do a thorough job of checking out what is available to you. You might be surprised by what you find.
Graduate school financial aid from the government
You're probably already aware that the U.S. Department of Education provides financial aid for graduate school to students who attend eligible institutions. To determine your eligibility for any of these programs, you need to complete the financial aid process established by the schools to which you're applying, as well as that of the federal government.
Fill out the FAFSA! Federal government aid programs include Subsidized Stafford Loans, Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Work-Study Programs.
Most state governments also offer grants, loans, and scholarships to their residents. Each school has a different FAFSA submission deadline, so keep this in mind when you're applying for aid.
Institutional resources for graduate financial aid
Some schools offer their own loan programs to help you with educational expenses. Your financial aid administrator can tell you what you'll need to do to apply for a loan from the school. You may also be eligible for a variety of school-sponsored scholarships and grants that may be awarded based on either need or merit.
Additionally, many graduate students complete teaching assistantships as part of paying for graduate school — a job that typically requires a commitment of about 20 hours per week. You should also check with your school to see if they offer any other on-campus employment opportunities that are not based on need or merit. Explore internship opportunities that are available at the school — a paid internship enables you to receive financial support while gaining work experience and, in some cases, academic credit.
Private and alternative financing
Foundations, corporate sponsors, and individuals offer aid money for graduate school every year through scholarships, grants, internships, and loans awarded either directly to you or to your school. Private sponsors establish their own application procedures and eligibility criteria which may have little or nothing to do with your financial situation.
You'll probably need to do a little work to uncover all of the private graduate school financial aid that you may be eligible to receive, and you'll have to shop around for the loans that offer the best interest rates and terms of repayment — but the work you put into this process will be well worth the effort.
Graduate financial aid may include payment plans
Check with the schools you're interested in to see if they offer payment arrangements to lessen out-of-pocket expenses. At some schools, you can divide tuition and other fees out over the course of a year rather than paying everything up front. If you have a steady source of income, such an alternative could be a good option.
If you work while attending school, financial aid for graduate school may include tuition assistance, so find out if your employer offers this benefit. Make sure you're clear on what's covered and how your employer administers assistance.
In most cases, you'll need to pay for your classes up front and then be refunded upon successful completion of your course work ("successful" is usually defined by maintaining a certain GPA, usually a B average or better). Every company has its own rules, however, so be sure to find out all the details before you apply.
If your company doesn't offer this benefit, you may want to make a persuasive argument to your boss for doing so — employers are always looking for ways to keep good employees. Be sure to explore any tax ramifications of accepting tuition reimbursement from your employer. In some cases, it may be taxed as income.
If you are a veteran and have completed at least one year of active service, Veterans Educational Benefits are available for graduate study and may help with paying for graduate school. The amount of benefit for which you're eligible depends on your length of military service, the number of dependents you have, and how many course credits you carry. For more information, check with the veterans' affairs offices at the schools to which you're applying or call the Veterans Affairs Department in Washington, D.C.
Funding your MBA
These creative means of financing your graduate education are just the beginning. If you look hard enough, you'll find vast resources to help you pay for business school. Chances are that you will end up borrowing at least some of the money for graduate school, but every little bit of aid you can come up with will help keep the amount you have to pay back as low as possible...