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

John Cortines

Class: MBA 2015

Industry: Non-profit

Could you please share a little bit about your upbringing?

I was raised in an upper-middle class home in North Dallas. My dad is an engineer and spent some time as a pastor. My mom stayed home with me and my little brother. I went to Texas A&M, where I studied Engineering. I married my wife right out of college.

I was working as a petroleum engineer and was making excellent money, which I think actually made the decision to get an MBA more difficult, because we already had a path to financial stability. My wife and I had so many conversations about what we wanted to do because we felt like we could be comfortable right where we were. We were settling into our life in Louisiana and we had a baby. But we also felt like it would be an amazing intellectual journey to go to HBS.

How would you describe your financial situation coming into HBS?

Coming into the MBA program I was married with one child, which added to the costs. We found that the Financial Aid office really took that into account, so I received scholarships and that reduced the size of the loans. I ended up borrowing around $50k in loans.

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?

I had confidence in my post-MBA earning potential. So for me, any anxiety was probably around deciding to switch from oil & gas to non-profit. The higher monthly living expenses were also an adjustment for us. Our monthly budget in Boston was significantly higher than what it had been in Louisiana, for the same standard of living.

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

I actually had plans to go into oil and gas, but then experienced what I can only describe as a clear calling into the nonprofit sector emerge late in my second year. In April or May, I made the decision to go into a non-profit role. Around the same time, I discovered that HBS offered loan repayment programs. I ended up applying and getting accepted to the Social Enterprise Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) which I used for 5 years.

What has your experience with debt repayment been like?

My wife and I are savers so we have a strong bias to not be in debt. We were very focused on paying our loans and were on a 7-year variable rate loan. In 2020, my wife and I had finally built a bit of an emergency fund, even as our family had grown. With the economic uncertainty of a wild year and the buffer of our emergency fund in place, we decided to do a lump payment to pay off the rest of the loans – about $15,000. We likely would have been eligible for another couple of years of LRAP funding, but we were really grateful for how much the LRAP funding had already helped us and were happy to knock out our debt and let other future students enjoy the benefits of the program!

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

Some HBS students are able to spend more on travel and entertainment and if you are not from a wealthy background, it is possible to experience envy or jealousy. I would just encourage everyone to not let those feelings creep in and impact your time in the program. Practice the virtue of contentment and remember the blessings of your own life… you are at Harvard Business School! There is so much to be grateful for.