20 Best Business Schools for Avoiding Massive MBA Debt

mba program rankings

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 Student Loan Hero 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.

Attending one of the MBA programs on the following list 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

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 free 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.

Rank Business School Average Indebtedness Percentage of graduates with debt Annual tuition and fees Average starting compensation
1 Lehigh University $0 0% $19,350 $86,667
2 Oklahoma City University $11,331 9% $16,230 $101,090
3 University of Texas —​ Dallas $7,132 25% $19,048 $83,000
4 Missouri University of Science and Technology $11,386 19% $15,402 $66,667
5 Oklahoma State University (Spears) $18,728 22% $12,121 $70,700
6 University of Missouri (Trulaske) $20,495 20% $14,599 $64,252
7 Florida State University $14,379 31% $18,693 $67,308
8 West Virginia University $18,608 33% $9,450 $58,488
9 Louisiana State University—​Baton Rouge (Ourso) $17,900 27% $17,800 $62,429
10 West Texas A&M $18,500 54% $9,600 $93,625
11 University of Mississippi $24,806 28% $13,500 $65,300
12 University of Florida (Hough) $34,426 38% $14,859 $115,664
13 San Diego State University $29,066 15% $14,446 $61,467
14 New Jersey Institute of Technology $29,637 17% $22,690 $78,167
15 University of Wisconsin —​ Whitewater $8,000 67% $9,504 $57,000
16 University of California —​ Riverside (Anderson) $41,805 7% $29,124 $103,041
17 University of Connecticut $34,161 37% $15,368 $107,648
18 University of South Dakota $23,250 31% $8,818 $53,417
19 University of Texas of the Permian Basin $18,634 53% $6,482 $60,750
20 University of North Texas $29,867 36% $9,327 $70,036
21 Lamar University $32,118 20% $5,365 $55,000
22 University of Georgia (Terry) $34,025 43% $15,670 $108,321
23 University of Arizona (Eller) $44,654 21% $24,100 $109,219
24 University of Cincinnati (Lindner) $29,437 33% $20,958 $77,606
25 Brigham Young University (Marriott) $38,355 53% $12,310 $121,655
26 Auburn University (Harbert) $32,628 16% $23,988 $65,558
27 Temple University (Fox) $27,770 41% $28,512 $99,539
28 Arkansas State University — ​Jonesboro State $38,000 35% $9,414 $74,500
29 Binghamton University —​ SUNY $24,779 42% $16,776 $63,808
30 University of Iowa (Tippie) $44,583 30% $23,234 $106,061
31 Purdue University—​West Lafayette (Krannert) $43,355 33% $22,418 $105,524
32 University of Tennessee — ​Knoxville (Haslam) $36,378 32% $19,894 $79,893
33 Xavier University (Williams) $28,646 33% $19,188 $62,443
34 University of Massachusetts —​ Amherst (Isenberg) $30,464 46% $16,087 $74,134
35 Mercer University —​ Atlanta (Stetson) $17,172 60% $19,632 $62,500
36 St. John’s University (Tobin) $28,291 21% $29,160 $59,276
37 Jacksonville University $30,334 35% $18,480 $62,500
38 University of Texas —​ El Paso $27,325 53% $11,940 $64,714
39 Arizona State University (Carey) $49,859 34% $29,150 $122,250
40 Stetson University $28,757 42% $24,216 $72,500
41 Michigan State University (Broad) $55,666 26% $30,600 $121,775
42 North Carolina State University (Jenkins) $40,473 35% $25,152 $90,500
43 St. Bonaventure University $19,455 54% $17,592 $50,000
44 University of Southern Indiana $49,887 40% $8,854 $84,100
45 La Salle University $21,429 49% $24,570 $55,867
46 SUNY —​ Oswego $16,677 65% $16,883 $48,000
47 University of Massachusetts — ​Dartmouth $31,824 13% $15,312 $40,800
48 University of California —​ Davis $52,039 27% $38,836 $115,176
49 University of Washington (Foster) $32,047 63% $33,339 $133,299
50 University of Tampa (Sykes) $41,517 30% $23,730 $70,796

Methodology: Student Loan Hero 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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