How to make ends meet while going back to school for a Full-Time MBA
Putting your job on hold and going back to school to earn an MBA is a big decision, not least because of the financial commitment.
While an MBA will strengthen your career in the long run, it requires significant planning and budgeting in the short-term.
Our intensive Full-time MBA program runs for one year, so students need to plan to support themselves for 12 months while they're out of the workplace.
For some this means saving in advance or taking out a loan, while others find support from their partners or family.
Many Full-Time MBA students at Melbourne Business School receive financial assistance through our scholarships, and some may also be eligible for government assistance under the FEE-HELP scheme. However neither of those will make ends meet on their own.
"Get into saving mode two, three, six or 12 months in advance of when you get here because you’re going to be out of work and very busy for at least 12 months," says class of 2018 student Stuart Saare.
Stuart decided to embark on an MBA so he could successfully switch careers after spending seven years delivering large-scale cost savings for oil and gas engineering companies.
"When trying to make a career change, I think you need something to differentiate yourself and signal your commitment. Studying a Full-Time MBA signals that you're prepared to go the extra mile to invest in education, so I was willing to concentrate for a year and make the necessary sacrifices," he says.
“It's quite a long haul to get your return on investment, but ultimately I think it’s worth it many times over."
For Stuart, his MBA was made possible by a combination of factors including FEE-HELP assistance, a scholarship and the support of his wife.
"Without scholarship and FEE-HELP support, I don't think the cost of an MBA would be viable for me," he says.
"It’s worth putting in the effort to make your application as impressive as possible and aiming for the many scholarships on offer."
Calculating your finances
Stuart's classmate Carol Xiaofei Liu also decided to study an MBA with a view to switching careers. Before coming to Melbourne Business School, Carol was working as a clinical pharmacist.
"I knew an MBA was what I needed to change my career pathway, but I also understood the financial burden that potentially would come with it," says Carol.
"To find the best way to go about supporting myself through the program, I spoke with alumni and conducted days of research. I found MBS has a great reputation for its curriculum, which helped me to commit to the program. So, making the finance work was something that I needed to overcome to make that commitment."
With her goal set, Carol prepared carefully to cover all her financial bases.
"The School's scholarship offerings really made the difference in deciding to study the full-time program. You can choose to have it allocated for tuition fees and/or living expenses, which is very helpful when you're leaving the workforce for a year.
"FEE-HELP, savings and a scholarship all count in your calculations when thinking about an MBA. But what made it an easier decision to choose the one-year program was thinking about the loan payback period and long-term career prosperity after graduation."
Carol says it's important to explain to your friends and family the value an MBA can bring to your life.
"My parents, being very traditional Chinese, wanted me to be on a career trajectory where I could specialise my skillsets further. So, they struggled to see the value of an MBA.
It took them time to see the changes in me and understand that some people working in professional fields have very specialised skillsets, but lack generalised business knowledge to take their career much further. An MBA equips you and better positions you for more career options."
Few recreational costs
Vanessa Whatmough completed her MBA in 2016. Afterwards, she started a boutique café in Port Melbourne called Tartisan – a dream she would never have achieved without the skills she learned while studying.
"I wanted to dedicate myself wholly to the MBA and not have it compete with a full-time job. I was fortunate to receive the Helen MacPherson Smith Fellowship, which funded a generous portion of my studies," Vanessa says.
The Helen MacPherson Smith Fellowship is awarded each year to an outstanding female student who shows potential for senior management or running her own business. It was a boon for Vanessa, but didn't solve all her financial concerns.
"The remainder of my fees and living costs were paid through a government study-assistance loan, my savings and support from my partner," she says.
As for day-to-day expenses during the degree, Vanessa says there were actually less than she expected.
"Your recreational spending will be very little because you will be so busy. Your time will be spent in class, studying, working on offsite projects and partaking in mentoring and School events.
"There were few School-related costs beyond fees. We were offered free gym membership and could join free sporting activities, such as Tuesday run club or the weekly student-staff soccer match.
"Also, the School organises its own catered networking events and subsidises catering at student-organised ones. So, the only networking costs I experienced personally were the occasional cups of coffee and transport to visit my mentor at her workplace."