While the financial aid process begins after you’ve been accepted at HBS, there is a lot you can do in the months (and even years) beforehand to put yourself in the best position to access funding. HBS will help you meet your full financial need through a combination of scholarships and loans. Here are the top six tips from the experts in our Financial Aid office.

1. Learn about how financial aid works at business school
HBS financial aid is primarily need-based. You will submit your HBS financial aid application after you are admitted with your supporting documents and we will evaluate your situation and provide you a need-based scholarship if you are eligible. About 50% of students at HBS receive need-based HBS Scholarships. You will also work with our team to secure whatever loans are required to cover the full cost of the MBA.

In addition to need-based HBS Scholarships, there will be opportunities for eligible students to obtain additional aid throughout the HBS MBAid Journey. You may be eligible for aid and support through our other complementary Harvard Fellowships like the Forward Fellowship (aid for students from lower income backgrounds who have carried significant financial burdens or obligations). HBS Summer Fellowships offer students the freedom to pursue internships between their first and second year that help them to realize their unique career visions without feeling limited by compensation levels. Finally, HBS has a strong commitment to career development, and provides aid to eligible students through our Career Support & Exploration programs which allow students to follow their passion and purpose.

2. Research external fellowships
There are a variety of external fellowships available for MBA students. You can bring in up to $30,000 in outside fellowships over the two-year program without reducing your need-based HBS Fellowship eligibility, but it is up to you to do the research and secure these opportunities.

3. Build your savings
If you are able to save some money, you should. Our expectation is that you will have saved part of your income from prior years of employment to direct toward the cost of your MBA. However, if you have debt that cannot be deferred while you are in school, work on paying that off first.

It is important to think about any consumer debt you have as well as educational debt. HBS is not able to take into account consumer debt when we calculate your financial aid package. You’ll need to be aware of and plan accordingly for any educational loans that do not allow for deferment when you start graduate school. Where possible, you should consider eliminating or reducing debt before attending.

4. Start thinking about your student budget
You’ll likely be living on a modest graduate student budget and most students will need to make choices about how they spend their money. While the Cost of Attendance at HBS includes many budget items such as Section and student club dues - as well as the cost to become a member at Shad (our gym) - the Cost of Attendance covers only modest entertainment/social costs and does not have an allowance for significant leisure travel.

5. Collect the forms you’ll need to submit
Domestic students will be asked to submit their federal tax returns for the prior three years, complete with all schedules and W-2s, 1099s, etc. International students will also be required to submit their prior three years of tax returns from their home country. If you are from a country that does not have a tax system, you may submit a letter from your employer reporting your salary plus bonuses if any were received for those three years.

6. Work on improving your credit score (if applicable)
A portion of our students take on debt as part of their plan to finance an MBA. If you are a student from the U.S. without a good credit score, you may not be able to get adequate financing, or you may be offered loans at a higher interest rate because you are seen as a high-risk borrower. The best thing you can do is to visit annualcreditreport.gov, study the information there, then click the link to the authorized site, annualcreditreport.com, to get your current credit score.

Order a copy of your annual credit report and resolve any problems right away. It can take a long time to get erroneous information corrected so it is smart to try to take care of this as soon as you can.

For international applicants, check your credit score if you have a credit history in the U.S. Many educational loan programs require a satisfactory credit history. If needed, we have arrangements that will allow international students to take out loans without a US co-signer.

Want to learn more? We have additional details on the full MBAid journey on our financial aid website.