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MBA Cost of Attendance (CoA)

Katie Schenk - May 19, 2017

MBA Cost of Attendance (CoA)

When you’re looking at university study - any university study - there’s a lot more to the price than just tuition. The Cost of Attendance (CoA) sums all expenses associated with your education. That’s tuition, required fees, books and study materials, rent, food, transportation, and often even more than that.

Although the Cost of Attendance is important for every student, it’s critical for international students. The ability to secure a study visa is directly linked to your ability to pay for your time in the host country. And, immigration officials work on the CoA figures provided by universities - not your own budget of expenses. Even if you can comfortably survive on half a meal a day, you’ll still need to prove your ability to pay for the three meals a day that your university expects you to have.

In the United States, any university that receives federal financial aid funds is required to post their annual Cost of Attendance clearly, so finding this information online is usually a painless process. It’s a different story in Europe where it’s difficult to track down estimates for some of the prominent schools. 

How do schools calculate the Cost of Attendance?

USA Schools CoA

The obligation American schools have to post CoA, doesn’t mean they use a standardised calculation. They don’t. Tuition is probably the only universal line item across different schools, as a quick look at a couple of published CoA tables will tell you.

These figures are all for the first academic year of two-year MBA programmes - for single students staying in basic accommodation. And, yes, those are the figures for an academic year which is nine months of the year for most schools. Stanford GSB has a ten-month academic year, for example. What you do for the other couple of months is a little tricky to deal with - especially if you’re participating in an internship in another city (and need to pay rent in two places) or you’re taking a couple extra classes to boost your academic record.

You may also be struck by the high figures attached to health insurance for these schools - and that NYU Stern includes these costs under the heading “miscellaneous”. (You may also be curious as to why the Cost of Attendance at this school is higher than the CoA for Columbia - even though they’re both situated in New York City, and the Columbia tuition fees are higher than NYU Stern’s fees.)

The Cost of Attendance is often worked out differently in Europe. Oxford’s Saïd Business School provides a breakdown similar to the American calculations (though we already know there are differences on that front). 

But, you’ll find programmes like IESE and ESADE (both in Barcelona) provide a tuition figure and then a monthly estimate for living expenses. Tuition covers the entire 18 or 19 months of study, but you’ll need to work on a figure of €2100 per month as an estimate to work out the CoA you’ll need to prove to immigration authorities.

And, over at London Business School, the school doesn’t explicitly provide living expenses on their main website. There are a couple of figures in a post on their blog site that will get you going. The average, by the way, is £2395 per month.

Why all the emphasis on Cost of Attendance?

If you’re planning to study in the United States, your university will provide you with an I-20 form once you’ve demonstrated your ability to cover the costs. You won’t get the form until you can show the school you can meet the figures - and you can’t submit your visa application or schedule your interview without this form.

Prodigy Finance also works with the Cost of Attendance provided by schools when offering their loans. For many programmes, the maximum loan amount is 80 percent of the CoA provided by the university. If the CoA for the first year at Columbia Business School is $104,712 - the maximum loan amount that can be extended is $83,796.60.

There are exceptions to this, however. Prodigy Finance can extend loans to ESADE MBAs equal to 100 percent of tuition only; at IE Business School in Madrid, the maximum loan amount is 75 percent of tuition. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business as well as at Stanford’s GSB (two of the priciest MBA educations), Prodigy Finance can extend loans up to 90 percent of the CoA provided by the school. (Each loan is, of course, determined by multiple factors and it’s important to read through all terms and conditions before applying for any loan.)

What does Cost of Attendance mean for your budget?

Europe CoA Select Schools

A quick look at the Cost of Attendance figures provided by the school, or, in the case of European schools, worked out according to average monthly spend should tell you a few things.

First, living expenses in different cities will radically change your budget - as will the length of your MBA programme.

If you consider the CoA at Oxford Saïd (provided by the school) versus the CoA for LBS (which is partially a guess based on the spending habits of select students), you’ll find a staggering difference in price. Partially, it’s due to the high cost of living in London and partially because Oxford’s MBA programme is 12 months and not 18 as you’ll find at LBS.

The difference in tuition between IESE and ESADE business schools accounts for the price differences in Barcelona.

Over in the US, it’s easy to see how the area may affect the budget. As you would expect, it’s more expensive to live in New York or California. Major cities elsewhere in the United States also come with high living expenses as seen in Chicago or Boston. Head to schools like the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and you’ll pay lower tuition fees, and your living expenses drop as well.

USA CoA Select Schools

But, although New Haven, Connecticut isn’t a thriving major city with an international airport, the low living costs should prompt you to perform a similar budgeting exercise as you would have to do if you were considering a European programme.

Why? Cost of Attendance isn’t your budget.

How accurate is the Cost of Attendance provided by schools?

Okay, tuition, mandatory fees, and often health insurance figures are pretty solid. (Though you do need to factor increases and ensure your health insurance covers a 12-month period not just an academic year.) And, if campus housing is available, you can work out many of the major costs with some accuracy.

But, you’ll need to make some serious choices when it comes to your budget for eating out (almost essential for bonding with your classmates), participating in clubs (which are often pathways to a job offer), and the type of transportation you’ll use (just remember how cold Chicago or New York can be). The Cost of Attendance provided by schools in the United States isn’t necessarily more accurate than the estimated living expenses given for schools in Barcelona.

And, missing from all of this are the costs of academic excursions and flights to interviews. It ignores living expenses during internship periods - and you don’t necessarily know where you’ll be for those few months. It could be in Cape Town or Los Angeles - and the cost of living in these cities is vastly different.

While a solid Cost of Attendance is critical for obtaining your international study visa, it’s only helpful when it comes to your MBA budget. You’ll still need to crunch the numbers. Luckily, you’ll have spent hours studying for the quants section of the GMAT, so it should feel like an easy task. And, when you’re wondering how you’ll manage the cost of an international education, remember that you have options like Prodigy Finance (which considers your budget as well as the schools CoA). 


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