Business school is a valuable investment in your future. HBS supports that investment through generous need-based scholarships. In addition to scholarships, many HBS students utilize student loans to help meet their portion of the shared investment.

If you anticipate borrowing to help finance your MBA, you are likely thinking about what repayment might look like post-graduation. HBS graduates pursue careers in a variety of industries and positions around the world. With a median starting salary of $148,750, and median signing bonus of $30,000, HBS graduates are well-positioned to pay off their student loans. Still, taking-on student debt to finance an MBA is a significant commitment, and we recognize that personal circumstances influence how each student approaches that commitment. To better understand how HBS graduates manage and repay their student debt, we interviewed several alumni about their loan repayment journeys.

Ina Foalea

Class: MBA 2018

Industry: Management Consulting

Could you please share a little bit about your upbringing and background?

I was brought up in Moldova. I don’t come from money. My family is now lower-middle class but when I was growing up we were more stretched financially. My parents went through the transition in 1989 from the Soviet Union and lost their savings overnight. Fortunately, I had a great education. I was on scholarship in high school and then moved to Canada at age 18 for university. I worked several jobs to pay for my university education. At one point I had multiple jobs at the same time: receptionist, teaching assistant, peer mentor, cleaning person, and more.

How would you describe your financial situation coming into HBS?

After university, I worked for an accounting firm and started saving. After that, I worked at a global health foundation in Uganda where I was making less but saving more, given my lower expenses.

Throughout those years, I was conservative in my spending. I had managed to save about $20,000 and had no student debt. Still, when I started thinking about an MBA, the cost felt unbelievably high given the financial challenges I had faced throughout my life.

What was your approach to paying for HBS?

I applied for need-based financial aid and received a significant amount. I decided not use my savings because it was my first experience living in the U.S. and there were just so many unknowns; having a cash buffer made me more comfortable. I took out student loans in my first year and a smaller amount in my second year because I received the newly created Forward Fellowship that year. By my second year, I also had a better sense of my budget and how to manage my expenses.

Did you have any anxiety or stress related to debt or how you would pay for HBS? If yes, how did you manage those feelings?

There was huge anxiety around cost initially. But when you go through recruiting in your first year, you start to understand the job market and what you’ll be making after graduation and realize you will be able to pay off your debt.

As I got closer to graduation, I had a sense of security because of the strong connections with my classmates. I knew that, for example, if anything were to happen to cause me to be out of a job, I would quickly be able to get back into the job market and take care of my responsibilities. I have a support system and know that if things don’t go as expected, it’s still going to be ok.

How did you approach your career search? Was it influenced by concerns about loans or debt repayment?

My student loans did influence my career direction and timing. In my 2nd year at HBS I was introduced to the concept of a search fund which I found fascinating. In an ideal world, I would have done a search fund, but I realized I needed to be able to repay my loans and knew a search fund would require taking on more debt. After graduation I went into consulting which has been an incredible experience. I’m extremely grateful that I’m learning and developing myself while also being able to repay my loans and get ready for the next opportunity.

Note that since Ina graduated, HBS has introduced a pilot Search Fund Fellowship to enable graduating students to pursue a self-funded search and to encourage students to seek career opportunities at small operating companies in underserved communities.

What has your experience with debt repayment been like? What is/was your strategy?

After graduation, I moved back to Canada and felt I no longer needed the cash buffer. I used 75% of my savings to pay down my student loans. In the two years since graduating, I have repaid the loans more aggressively than I initially planned. I had expected to take a minimum of 7 years to repay the full balance, but realized I could pay more and set an aggressive goal to repay the full balance within 4 years of graduating. I am on-track to reach that goal.

Is there any advice you would like to share with prospective or current HBS students regarding loans or debt repayment?

  1. Don’t be afraid of speaking about money. It can feel taboo, yet it’s a perfectly honest and real thing to talk about. We’re paying for something that we’re so lucky to get and we need to be mindful of what will happen in the future. The more we repress it, the more it comes up as anxiety. We’re all so lucky to be receiving this education but it’s natural to worry about paying for it.
  2. View HBS an investment in yourself for two years. Realize the community is there for you. The experience, knowledge, and community are phenomenal, including the faculty, your career coach, and more.
  3. Be honest with yourself and plan for ancillary expenses. It will give you the freedom to say, “I thought about this, budgeted for it, and it’s worth the investment.” That gives you the peace of mind that those two years are your time to develop and are a worthwhile investment. This is your time that no one can take away.