How to Pay for an Online MBA

From scholarships to loans and more, learn how to cover online MBA costs with financial aid tips from SMU Cox. Confidently pursue an MBA and gain a competitive edge.

A man walking with a brown leather briefcase.

This blog post was originally published in January 2023, and was revised in June 2023.

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate degrees in business, including MBAs, are the most popular master’s degrees conferred in the United States. With consistently high employer demand for MBA holders, earning this credential can help business professionals advance their careers and stay competitive in tough job markets.

Over the last two years, there has been a significant shift in the business program landscape, with part-time, online MBA program enrollment exceeding full-time, in-person enrollment in the U.S. Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, many working professionals re-evaluated their career goals and decided to upskill through online MBA degree programs.

Regardless of the learning format they choose, MBA graduates often experience greater career mobility and are prepared to lead across industries. They also develop advanced management skills that can help them increase their earning potential, broaden their professional networks and take on leadership opportunities. 

While the benefits of earning an MBA are unquestionable, ambitious professionals must consider the cost of earning an MBA. That’s why many online MBA programs such as the part-time Online Master of Business Administration program at the SMU Cox School of Business are taking steps to make earning – and paying for – this credential easier.

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How Much Do Online MBA Programs Cost?

Prospective students should know that online MBA program tuition varies by institution. Factors that can influence program or tuition costs include: 

  • Experiential learning. Top online MBA programs include hands-on projects in the curriculum that let students put theory into practice and solve real-world business challenges. SMU Cox provides in-state and out-of-state students with numerous opportunities for immersive, experiential learning to help them develop a competitive edge in the workforce.
  • Faculty experience and prestige. The quality of faculty influences the value of an MBA program. SMU Cox’s faculty includes industry leaders who consult for Fortune 500 companies, publish books and research, run their own businesses and have served in government roles. 
  • Student support. The best online MBA programs ensure students feel supported from the moment they enroll through graduation and beyond. SMU Cox MBA candidates can access career coaching through the Career Management Center and benefit from resources including LinkedIn page design and networking strategies, career mapping, interview preparation and salary negotiation guidance. 
  • Technology. Online education quality can vary between graduate programs. SMU Cox’s online courses offer simulations, experiential learning scenarios and live lectures that prepare students for the realities of working in a global business environment. 
  • Networking. Building connections is crucial to career success. SMU Cox recognizes the value of community and supplements the online coursework with two immersion trips that let students network with faculty, peers and professionals in international business hubs. 
  • Return on investment. The ROI of an MBA is unmatched and continues to increase as demand for MBA holders grows. SMU Cox offers financial aid and scholarship resources to help students determine how they will pay for their degrees.

As of April 2023, the AACSB-accredited SMU Cox School of Business Online MBA program tuition rate is $1,797 per credit hour, with program tuition totaling $102,644 for 52 credits. In addition to tuition, which is subject to change each year, students should also budget for other expenses such as application fees, books and materials, enrollment fees, prerequisite courses and transcript fees. 

Compared to full-time MBA programs, part-time online MBA programs mitigate certain opportunity costs because online students can continue working and see an immediate career impact as a result of pursuing this degree. Even so, they bring the same returns. In 2021, The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported that the median salary of MBA graduates was 77% higher than bachelor’s degree holders, which translates to a $3 million difference in lifetime earnings over 35 years.

Options for Covering Online MBA Costs

When it comes to covering online MBA costs, students have access to many resources beyond dipping into savings. Most SMU Cox MBA candidates leverage multiple funding sources to pay for their degrees, including government, school and private assistance. 

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans offer an avenue for MBA students to receive government financial aid while pursuing degrees. Eligible graduate students may apply for Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal Direct PLUS Loans. 

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are typically the lowest-cost loan available to eligible graduate students, regardless of their financial need, and allow them to borrow up to $20,500 per year. To be eligible, students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, be enrolled in at least 4.5 credits per semester and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

Students needing additional aid may also apply for a Direct PLUS Loan, another low-cost option. After filing the FAFSA, students must complete an additional application for this type of loan. While eligibility is not based on financial need, recipients must have a good credit history, and a credit check is required. Direct PLUS Loans, also commonly referred to as PLUS Loans, have a slightly higher interest rate and require borrowers to pay an origination fee. 


Leveraging scholarship money is one beneficial option for students looking to fund their MBA. Unlike loans, scholarships allow students to cover online MBA costs without worrying about making repayments in the future. 

SMU Cox’s School of Business considers all Online MBA applicants for merit-based scholarships, and 63% of students in the program receive awards ranging from $1,000 to $15,000. 

Students are also encouraged to seek out external scholarships, grants and fellowships using tools such as Sallie Mae Scholarship Search, CHCI NextOpp, Fastweb, FinAid, Peterson’s and It’s important to review the eligibility requirements and dedicate sufficient time to building strong applications. While this can be time-consuming, leveraging external scholarships can help offset the total cost of pursuing an MBA.

Military Benefits

Military veterans, service members and qualifying dependents and survivors may be eligible for education benefits that contribute to or cover the cost of enrolling in a college of business. 

Named a Top 25 Private MBA School in the U.S. by Military MBA, SMU Cox is a proud Yellow Ribbon Program participant. This federal program allows eligible service members and veterans to access aid covering nearly 100% of tuition and fees. In addition, SMU Cox offers private donor scholarships for veterans and service members who are not eligible for Yellow Ribbon support. 

Service members and veterans can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-888-442-4551 or visit the Veteran Affairs website to determine if they are eligible. To learn more about military benefits at SMU Cox, email our Veteran Services team or call us at 214-768-4348. 

Paying Out of Pocket

Work experience is a benefit rather than a roadblock in earning an MBA. Students in part-time MBA programs such as SMU Cox’s Online MBA can continue working full time, making it easier to self-fund an MBA. 

Part-time MBA degree programs may cost less than full-time programs in the short term because students take fewer courses each semester. Some MBA students who do not qualify for federal aid or employer assistance pay for their degree with savings, home equity or funds borrowed from retirement and investment accounts.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Many employers, including Fortune 500 companies, offer benefits such as leadership training, tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement programs that students can tap into to fund their MBAs. 

Employer tuition assistance – used for tuition, fees and other education-related expenses – is tax-free for employers and employees up to $5,250. Once above that figure, tuition assistance must meet federal guidelines surrounding qualifying work-related education to remain nontaxable. 

It’s important to note that employers often require employees pursuing an MBA with tuition assistance to continue working for the organization for a set period after graduation. Before enrolling in a program, MBA seekers should meet with their company’s HR representative to discuss their policies because some employers require program approval. Highlighting the quality of a program, such as the SMU Cox Online MBA, can help human resources teams understand the value of their employees pursuing higher education and the ROI for the organization. 

Private Loans

After exhausting other aid options, some students pursue private loans from a bank or other financial institution. Depending on the lender, private loans offer varying interest rates, grace periods, repayment options and fees. Approval for private loans is generally based on creditworthiness, leading some students to apply with a cosigner.

When pursuing a private loan, students should research financial institutions to ensure policies align with their ability to make repayments and accrue interest consistently. Private loans typically have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment schedules, meaning they should be the last option after exploring all federal student loans. 

An MBA Can Pay for Itself Over Time

When deciding whether now is the time to pursue an MBA, cost is just one factor – and shouldn’t be the primary factor in professional development decisions. It’s much more important to consider the high ROI of the MBA. Business school graduates increase their earning potential and enjoy other benefits, including broader professional networks and consideration for top leadership positions. 

Pursuing an MBA in a highly ranked program such as that offered by SMU Cox School of Business may require a significant financial investment, but questions about how to afford a top DFW university MBA shouldn’t delay anyone’s professional development journey. Managing the expense of graduate school is a matter of understanding the cost of advanced business education, exploring every funding avenue possible, creating a comprehensive financial plan and staying focused on the future benefits this credential will bring.

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