Written by Liz Simmons
Last Updated: October 6, 2020
An MBA develops the business knowledge and skills necessary to lead and manage organizations. Earning an MBA can advance careers, expand salary potential, and lead to personal satisfaction. Prospective MBAs include students coming straight from undergrad, business professionals who want to move up in their careers, and those seeking to change fields completely.
MBA costs vary considerably by school, with those attending private universities potentially paying more than $100,000. The real cost of a business degree accounts for tuition, housing, textbooks, and potentially lost income from working less while earning the degree.
Many learners prioritize affordability, seeking cheap MBA programs to minimize their student loan debt after graduation. Prospective students must balance the desire for the most affordable MBA with concerns about program quality, increased earning power after graduation, paying off loans, and choosing between online and in-person instruction.
Earning an MBA can open the door to a variety of lucrative management positions in business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that top executives earn a median annual salary of $104,690. Our rankings below describe the ten best affordable MBA programs.
The 10 Best Cheap MBA Programs
|1||Naval Postgraduate School||Monterey, CA|
|2||University of Massachusetts Amherst||Amherst, MA|
|3||Texas A&M International University||Laredo, TX|
|4||Indiana State University||Terre Haute, IN|
|5||Albany State University||Albany, GA|
|6||Savannah State University||Savannah, GA|
|7||Angelo State University||San Angelo, TX|
|8||Augusta University||Augusta, GA|
|9||Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi||Corpus Christi, TX|
|10||Midwestern State University||Wichita Falls, TX|
Why Get an Affordable MBA?
Choosing an affordable MBA program increases the chance of getting a good return on your investment. An expensive MBA may require students to get a higher-paying job after graduation, particularly for those with student loans. Before pursuing an MBA, consider the cost of tuition, projected debt, and potential careers and salary after graduation. How long will it take to pay off your student loans?
Many pursue an MBA only after gaining a few years of relevant professional experience in the business field. This ensures students enjoy working in business before investing the time and money into graduate school. Even though getting an MBA costs a significant amount, it can pay off.
MBA-holders typically earn more than individuals with just a bachelor's degree. PayScale reports those with an MBA earn an $88,500 a year compared to the average of $62,040 for those with just a bachelor's degree.
- – Less Debt After Graduation: Many grad students take out loans to help finance their education. Choosing a more affordable MBA may translate to less student loan debt.
- – Better Return On Investment: Cheap MBA programs may offer a better return on investment, requiring learners to invest less in the degree while potentially earning the same salary after graduating.
- – You Will Still Get a Job: As long as you went to an accredited college, potential employers typically do not prefer employees who graduate from a more expensive school.
- – Less Risk: Earning an affordable MBA is less risky than earning one from an expensive program. In case you don't finish the program or don't end up using your MBA, you will have spent less.
- – More Money to Spend on Other Things: Choosing cheap MBA programs gives students the flexibility to spend their money on other things that they need or want.
Should You Get Your MBA Online?
Getting an MBA online offers flexibility, convenience, and affordability. Online education appeals to students who work full time while going to grad school. Asynchronous distance learning programs let MBA candidates complete coursework with a more flexible schedule. Some online MBAs offer reduced tuition rates, particularly for out-of-state learners.
Earning an MBA online also allows students to master business-relevant technology and online communication while still in school. The business field often adopts new technologies more quickly than other parts of society, so technological competency can benefit those who earn their MBA online. Familiarity with online tools may be especially necessary with COVID-19 accelerating the adoption of telecommuting and remote work as the norm.
Best Affordable MBA Program Rankings
Choosing an MBA program requires research. Factors to consider include curriculum, specializations available, cost, and program length. We created a methodology that considers many criteria to assess the best MBA programs. Our rankings below describe the 10 best affordable MBA programs. This is a great place to start when weighing your considerations to select the best program for you.
Public graduate school in Monterey, California, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
The U.S. Navy operates the Naval Postgraduate School, located in Monterey, California. NPS offers degrees in more than 70 disciplines and boasts more than $100 million in sponsored research funding.
NPS's MBA program offers a defense-focused business education that prepares students to work in management careers in the Department of Defense. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree with better-than-average grades. Applicants must also complete at least two semesters of trigonometry or college algebra. The in-person program lasts four quarters, with start dates in January and July.
Students take classes like management for organizational effectiveness, ethical leadership in public organizations, and advanced economic and defense policy analysis. The program requires two capstone applied projects. The degree offers concentrations, but learners can also select elective classes that reflect their career aspirations.
- – Acquisition management
- – Defense management
- – Financial management
- – Information management
- – Logistics management
The U.S. Navy funds most education at NPS, offering an affordable MBA option for prospective learners serving in the U.S. military. Civilian students can apply for two scholarships designed specifically for them.
Public university in Amherst, Massachusetts, accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education
A major public research university, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst serves more than 31,000 students. The school offers 109 bachelor's degree programs and 78 master's degrees.
UMass Amherst's accredited MBA program emphasizes collaborative, experiential learning. The Isenberg School of Management offers online, in-person, and MBA/MS dual degree options. Online and on-campus classes feature the same faculty and curriculum.
Notable classes include data management for business leaders, strategic information management, corporate finance, and healthcare quality and performance improvement. Students choose from five concentrations and can add electives to specialize their degree.
MBA application requirements include a personal statement, a resume, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. The program may require GMAT or GRE scores, and applicants to the on-campus program must attend an in-person interview.
- – Business analytics
- – Entrepreneurship
- – Finance
- – Healthcare administration
- – Marketing
UMass Amherst's Affordability
On-campus MBA students receive a two-year Isenberg MBA fellowship that completely covers tuition, health insurance, and an annual stipend. The online MBA program charges a competitive rate per credit and offers financial aid opportunities.
Public university in Laredo, Texas, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Located in Laredo, Texas, Texas A&M International University offers more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs with a focus on global study and understanding across fields.
TAMIU's 30-credit MBA includes face-to-face and online program options that focus on financial and strategic planning skills. Online learners may complete the MBA in just 15 months. Students take classes like global environments of business, financial statement analysis, strategic management, and business research methods. The program offers five specializations.
Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and official GRE/GMAT scores. Applicants must also submit a resume with three references and contact information. Students without a bachelor's in business may need to complete prerequisites.
- – International business (English)
- – International business (Spanish)
- – International trade and logistics
- – International banking and finance
- – Management
TAMIU's business school offers financial aid opportunities including scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships to MBA students. Assistantships include $15,000 a year for students who work 20 hours a week. Texas residents can complete the online MBA paying only $10,000.
Public university in Terre Haute, Indiana, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission
Founded in 1865, Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, features more than 100 undergraduate programs, 75 graduate degrees, and 70 online programs. ISU requires all students to complete an experiential learning project.
ISU's MBA program offers part-time and full-time in-person options, including evening classes. The MBA is not available online. The 33-credit curriculum includes seminars, electives, business tool classes, and a capstone. Students take courses like management information systems, strategic financial decisions, dynamic strategy, and advanced management practices.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit GMAT or GRE scores, official transcripts, and an application fee. The open admission program accepts applications year-round. The Scott College of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
The MBA offers competitive graduate assistantships to help offset the cost of tuition. Graduate assistants work in the department part time and may receive a tuition waiver and stipend. The Scott School of Business also offers a variety of scholarships for graduate students.
Public university in Albany, Georgia, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Founded in 1903, Albany State University in southwest Georgia is a historically black university that started as Albany Bible Manual Training Institution. More than 6,000 students attend ASU.
ASU's MBA program requires 30-33 credits, depending on concentration. The degree prepares graduates for middle- and upper-management careers. The MBA requires core and elective courses and a capstone project. Classes include accounting analysis for decision-making, business policy and strategic management, marketing management, and organizational behavior and effectiveness.
Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university, official transcripts, two letters of reference, and a statement of purpose. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students without a bachelor's in business administration must take an entrance exam and may need to complete prerequisites.
- – Accounting
- – Healthcare management
- – Supply chain logistics management
- – Public administration
- – General
ASU's competitive MBA tuition costs $2,287 per semester for 12 or more credits. The university offers scholarships, grants, loans, and student employment. Georgia's low cost of living also makes the MBA more affordable.
Public university in Savannah, Georgia, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
The oldest historically black university in Georgia, Savannah State University was founded in 1890. The school offers 5 graduate degrees and 30 bachelor's programs.
The 30-credit MBA requires two years or less to complete. Students take classes like strategic management, statistics and quantitative methods, organizational leadership, and accounting and decision-making. The in-person program offers flexible evening classes that meet once a week, and the curriculum focuses on fundamental practices and current business trends.
The competitive MBA program accepts applications year-round. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a strong academic record, GMAT or GRE scores (waivers available), and professional work experience. SSU's MBA program is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
SSU offers a variety of financial aid opportunities, including grants, scholarships, federal work study, and work programs. Students also save money thanks to Georgia's low cost of living.
Public university in San Angelo, Texas, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Founded in 1928, Angelo State University in West Texas boasts more than 100 majors and concentrations through six colleges. Affiliated with the Texas Tech University System, ASU serves more than 10,000 students.
The leadership-focused MBA provides broad business knowledge and skills that prepare graduates for management and administrative careers. The curriculum integrates business ethics and international business throughout classes like financial accounting, principles of management, Microsoft Excel for MBA students, and understanding corporate finance. Learners can complete the 30-credit degree MBA online or in person.
Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, a minimum 2.5 GPA in the last 60 credits of undergraduate study, a GMAT score of 430 or better, and professional experience. The program waives the GMAT requirement for applicants with a minimum 3.0 GPA or at least three years of relevant work experience.
- – Healthcare management
ASU considers all MBA students for the Carr Academic Graduate Scholarship upon admission to the program. The Norris-Vincent College of Business also offers graduate fellowships and assistantships.
Public university in Augusta, Georgia, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Known for its medical college, Augusta University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Founded in 1828, the school's location in Augusta, Georgia, places it halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains.
AU's MBA offers online and on-campus options. The distance education program features a cohort approach for working professionals and accepts up to six transfer credits of graduate-level coursework. The 30-credit MBA includes 10 core classes and takes 12-24 months to complete. Hull also offers dual-degree programs through the Medical College of Georgia (MD/MBA) and the Dental College of Georgia (DMD/MBA).
The MBA curriculum includes courses like business strategic management, accounting systems for managers, managerial leadership, and business analytics for managers. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and GMAT/GRE scores.
Out-of-state MBA students in the online program receive a tuition discount. Financial aid opportunities include scholarships, grants, loans, and federal work-study.
Public university in Corpus Christi, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Part of the Texas A&M University System, TAMU-CC is known for a high level of research activity. Established in 1947, the school serves more than 11,000 students.
The MBA program offers online and in-person options. Full-time students can finish the 30-credit degree in one year. Required courses include managerial economics, administrative strategy and policy, software-based business solutions, and operations management. The program offers five concentrations.
Application requirements include official transcripts from all prior colleges, a resume or CV, and a 500-word essay. The program also requires GMAT or GRE scores, with a possible waiver for those with a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits of undergraduate work or a previously completed graduate degree. Those with a nonbusiness undergraduate degree may need to take up to 12 business foundation classes.
- – Accounting
- – Finance
- – Healthcare administration
- – International business
- – Data analytics
The College of Business offers a variety of competitive scholarships for new and returning MBA students. Online MBA candidates can apply for a distance fee waiver, which eliminates some fees. The program's short length (one year) can also save money.
Public university in Wichita Falls, Texas, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
The state's only public university focused on liberal arts, MSU Texas educates 6,000 learners. Established in 1922, the school offers more than 100 student organizations.
The MBA provides a broad overview of business fundamentals that prepares graduates for leadership opportunities in a variety of organizations. The flexible program offers online, in-person, and hybrid options. Students can choose from two concentrations and take classes like federal estate and gift tax, energy accounting and law, information technology management, and current issues in organizational behavior.
Application requirements include a bachelor's degree in any field from a regionally accredited college and official transcripts from all previous universities. The program is currently waiving GMAT/GRE scores for all applicants. The MBA is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
- – Accounting
- – Energy management
MSU Texas's Affordability
MBA students can apply for competitive graduate assistantships and graduate merit scholarships. Out-of-state and international learners may qualify to pay in-state tuition. The program also awards scholarships to military personnel.
Our Methodology for Ranking the Cheapest MBA Programs
To arrive at our ranking of cheap MBAs, a list of almost 950 schools was obtained, and their MBA programs were vetted based on the following two factors:
- Accreditation: Accreditation directly affects education standards, program value, and even brand recognition. This, in turn, affects the competitive advantage of each graduate. Accreditation can assure a student that while the price may be low, the value is not. Therefore, every program ranked by TopManagementDegrees.com is regionally accredited by one of the six accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and programmatically accredited by one of the top three business school accrediting institutions: IACBE, ACBSP, and AACSB.
- Estimated Tuition Cost: Once the list of all the accredited MBA programs was compiled, each program was ranked based on the estimated total base tuition price. All tuition data was taken from the most recent information available on each MBA program or school website. The base tuition was calculated for the entirety of the degree but does not include fees, books, or room and board, except for programs that only offer all-inclusive figures. If a school provides a lower in-state tuition cost, the in-state pricing was used. The highest MBA tuition from this ranking comes in just over $11,000 with the average MBA cost resting just over $8,400.
What to Expect From Affordable MBA Programs
The average MBA takes two years to complete and requires 30-60 credits. Full-time students typically take four classes each semester. Some programs offer accelerated programs, requiring learners to take more credits in less time. Others allow students to attend part time and take longer than two years.
Many affordable MBA programs happen partly or fully online, offering convenience and flexibility, especially to students who work full time. Online programs take place synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous programs require learners to log on to a virtual classroom and participate in real time. Asynchronous learning allows students to log on, watch pre-recorded lectures, and complete coursework whenever their schedule allows.
MBAs typically require core, elective/concentration, and capstone/internship classes. The types and number of concentrations available vary by program. Admission requirements usually include a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Many MBA programs also require GRE or GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, and relevant professional experience.
MBA programs develop general business knowledge and skills applicable across the business field. Most MBA degrees also offer a variety of concentrations that allow students to specialize in a particular area of business. Pursuing an MBA specialization lets learners focus more closely on a subfield of business related to their personal academic interests or career goals. Students gain skills and understanding from a concentration that a general business curriculum may not cover.
A specialized MBA can help graduates qualify for new and different career paths. Popular MBA concentrations include entrepreneurship, general management, finance, and corporate strategy. An MBA candidate interested in a career advising corporations on their business strategies may benefit from a concentration in corporate strategy. A general management concentration offers career-relevant skills and knowledge applicable to many management positions. Think about your career goals, salary aspirations, and personal strengths when choosing a concentration.
Popular MBA Courses
Courses vary by MBA program. Most MBAs offer core, elective/concentration, and capstone/internship classes. A typical curriculum explores finance, accounting, marketing, and management issues. Below, we describe some popular MBA courses.
- Financial Accounting for Decision-Makers: Students learn the foundations of financial accounting with a special focus on decision-makers. The class covers the financial reporting process, managerial incentives, and accounting standards. Other topics include financial statement analysis and disclosure and recording economic events.
- Critical Thinking for Managers: This course explores several methods of critical thinking and teaches learners how to use logic and reason to understand issues. Students practice critically evaluating text, claims, and speech to make the most sound business decisions.
- Leading People: Learners gain leadership skills in this class focused on managing people in organizations. Topics include conflict management, change management, negotiations, and organizational culture. Students gain skills in nonverbal communication, networking, and presentation. They also learn to analyze things from the perspective of the organization, team, and individual.
- Essential Economics for Managers: This class provides a foundation in microeconomic concepts. Students learn about managerial decision-making, competition, pricing practices, and market power. Other topics include production and cost and the economics of innovation and information.
The MBA Capstone or Thesis
MBA programs may require a capstone or, less commonly, a thesis. Capstones allow students to synthesize the cumulative academic knowledge and professional insights they've gained during the course of the program by applying classroom knowledge to a real-world business problem often posed by a local company. Some capstones require students to work on a project as a team, while others offer an individualized option. MBA capstones usually happen in the last semester of the program.
Business master's programs require thesis projects more often than MBA programs. A thesis requires learners to conduct original research under the supervision of business school faculty. Thesis students write a long publication-quality report addressing a business problem and must defend the thesis orally in front of their thesis committee. Writing, researching, and defending an MBA thesis takes 1-2 semesters and requires substantial effort.
What Jobs Can MBAs Get You?
Affordable MBAs can open the door to higher-level careers and better salaries across many industries and sectors. One of the most relevant, versatile, and broadly applicable degrees, an MBA may be one of the most valuable graduate degrees. Almost every type of organization can benefit from the management, financial, and operational knowledge and skills of an MBA graduate.
Popular careers for MBAs include top executive, financial manager, and human resources manager. Other good options include sales manager and management analyst. The BLS reports high pay for many business careers, including a median salary of $126,640 for sales managers and $129,890 for financial managers. A variety of other factors, including experience level, employer, region, and occupation, have an impact on salary.
The BLS includes more information about how to choose a high-paying career in the business field. Below, we describe some popular careers for MBA graduates.
Top executives plan to make sure that organizations meet their goals. They work in almost every industry, for organizations large and small. Typical job duties may include negotiating agreements or contracts, identifying cost-cutting measures, and analyzing financial statements. Some top executive roles include chief executive officers, general and operations managers, and city managers.
Financial managers plan for the long term financial health of their organizations. They also direct investments, create financial reports, and find ways to cut costs. Types of financial managers include treasurers, credit managers, and cash managers. Many financial managers pursue professional certification in addition to a degree.
- – Required Education: Master's degree
- – Job Outlook: +15% (2019-29)
- – Median Annual Salary: $129,890
Human Resources Managers
Human resources managers plan and direct administrative activities for their organizations. Typical job duties may include overseeing employee benefit programs, mediating disputes, and connecting management with employees. Human resources managers may work as labor relations directors, payroll managers, and recruiting managers.
Sales managers oversee sales teams for their organizations. They set sales goals, create training programs for their organizations, and prepare budgets. They work in industries like wholesale trade, retail trade, and manufacturing. Important traits include leadership, communication, and customer service skills.
- – Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- – Job Outlook: +4% (2019-29)
- – Median Annual Salary: $126,640
Management analysts find ways to improve organizational efficiency. Typical tasks may include analyzing financial data, recommending organizational changes, and interviewing personnel. Most management analysts work in professional, scientific, and technical services.
Will Getting My MBA Pay Off?
Earning an MBA can pay off, especially if you choose your program carefully.
Research, ask questions, and visit potential schools before deciding where to get your MBA.
Think about program costs, expected debt, and projected salary after graduation to figure out how long it may take to show a return on investment. Also consider income lost while earning your degree if you plan to take time off from work to go back to school.
Another good way to evaluate MBA costs includes looking at prospective schools' employment records for graduates. This lets you see what types of jobs and salaries their MBA-holders find.
Because the MBA is so versatile, graduates qualify for a host of careers across many industries. MBA-holders also stand to make more money over time than those with just a bachelor's degree.
Earning an MBA can lead to benefits beyond the initial pay bump, including some intangible ones. Additional opportunities come both to those who stay at their current companies and those who switch employers. Potential benefits include commanding more respect from employers and colleagues, more chances to grow professionally over time, and qualifying for a greater variety of positions with more responsibility.
Making Cheap MBA Programs Even Cheaper
Students interested in cheap MBA programs can find other ways to cut costs. MBA candidates may save money by enrolling in an online or accelerated program, taking more credits each semester, and renting textbooks instead of buying them. Other cost saving measures include finding MBA programs that do not require the GMAT and taking advantage of financial aid.
Enroll in an Online MBA Program
Online programs often offer cost savings compared to traditional on-campus programs. Students may save by cutting out the cost of commuting or living on campus. Distance education programs often offer tuition discounts to out-of-state learners. The flexibility and convenience of an online MBA also makes it easier for students to keep working (and earning money) while in school.
Choose an Accelerated Program
Accelerated MBA programs often cost less than traditional two-year options. Often, the faster you earn your degree, the lower the total cost of tuition. An accelerated MBA requires a significant time commitment while in school, and students may find it difficult to work while in such an intensive program.
Take More Classes Each Semester
Taking extra credits/classes can help students graduate faster while saving tuition money. However, learners must balance graduating sooner with the risk of being overwhelmed with too much work.
Rent Textbooks Instead of Buying Them
Many schools offer the option to rent textbooks instead of buying them. Because textbooks cost so much, renting can save considerably. Buying used or electronic versions may also cost less than buying new textbooks.
Find MBA Programs That Do Not Require the GMAT
One way for students to save money on business school includes applying to no-GMAT online MBA programs. If you apply to a school that requires the GMAT, expect to spend about $250 on the test itself. Many students also pay several hundred dollars on exam preparation books and services.
Mitigate an MBA's Cost With Financial Aid
Even with the cheapest MBA programs, business school is still a big investment. Taking advantage of financial aid can help get you the most affordable MBA possible. Research financing options like grants, employer reimbursement programs, and business scholarships.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I pay for an MBA?
Only you can decide how much to pay for your MBA. Think about the degree's return on investment by calculating the cost of the degree, anticipated debt, and salary expectations after graduation.
What's the average MBA cost?
MBA costs vary considerably. Factors impacting price include type of school (private or public), program length, and format (online or in-person). Top business schools may charge more than $100,000 for a two-year MBA.
Is it better to get a master's or an MBA?
It depends on your career goals. Many students find an MBA more versatile and relevant to a variety of career paths. A master's in other fields may prove more relevant to your particular career goals.
How much will an MBA increase my salary?
Earning an MBA can greatly increase your salary. Other factors that impact earning potential include occupation, level of experience, and salary prior to earning the MBA.
Professional Organizations in Business Management
MBA students and graduates alike should consider joining a professional organization related to business administration, for either general business or for their particular area of interest. Professional organizations serve their members through plentiful networking opportunities, including through local chapters, online forums, and conferences. Such organizations also provide resources such as job boards, professional development opportunities, and mentorship programs.
Dedicated to quality management through continuing education, AMA serves its individual and organizational members through news updates, research reports, free webinars, and discounted seminars.
With membership centered around marketing professionals, teachers, and researchers, AMA offers resources such as local chapter involvement, marketing news, special interest groups, online toolkits, webinars, and a micro-internship program.
Focused on lifelong learning for finance professionals, AFP offers a certified treasury professional credential, live and self-paced courses, online forums and collaboration opportunities, and multiple events every year.
Dedicated to improvements in the field of human resources through academic research, the AHRD serves its members through scholarly journal subscriptions, special interest groups, a mentorship program, and an annual conference.
Serving its membership of computer professionals, including business analytics and information systems managers, ACM offers resources such as special interest groups, local chapters, online education, and multiple conferences every year.