While certainly not proliferous, free or low-cost Master’s programmes can be found if you are studious in your search. It certainly helps to be willing to relocate and to have demonstrated academic or professional success.

Types of assistance

Scholarships and fellowships will have criteria for selection, the most common types being need-based or merit-based. For a need-based scholarship, you will need to prove economic hardship that prevents you from affording the cost of the programme. For a merit-based scholarship, you will need to demonstrate a highly successful level of academic or professional experience. Some scholarships require a combination of both. Top-rated schools often do not offer such assistance, however, due to the large demand for their programmes.

In addition to need-based and merit-based scholarships, you might be able to find a scholarship or fellowship that target specific races, religions, genders or countries of origin. Others may be offered to just students pursuing specific career fields.

When you search for a free MBA or low-cost tuition programme, do not limit your search to scholarships. Fellowships are also available for some programmes. The terms fellowship and scholarship typically mean the same thing: funding for your education that does not necessarily require payback. A fellowship might be rarer to find and more prestigious in nature, which often make them extremely competitive. In addition, a fellowship typically requires study or research in a particular field, whereas you might be allowed to use a scholarship across several post-graduate programmes.

Fellowship

Full or partial scholarships

Many B-schools and universities have scholarship programmes that pay for all or part of the tuition and expenses for your post-graduate education for the reasons mentioned below. The limited availability and attractiveness of such offers makes them highly competitive, so be prepared to put your best foot forward in the application process. And begin your search early. Your MBA or Master’s programme might not begin until fall, but the deadlines to apply for scholarships might be much earlier in the year.

You will need to search school websites to find more about what scholarships are available at a particular school. According to the Copenhagen Business School (Denmark) website, the school offers two types of scholarships for a limited number of candidates to its MBA programme:  a CBS scholarship for “exceptional candidates” based upon demonstrated academic success, and an E-Fellows scholarship that pays 30% of tuition costs each year of the programme.

Deutsche Welle Akademie (Germany) has both full and partial scholarships available for its International Media Studies Master’s programme. Its full scholarships are limited to just 10 per academic cycle, and they are limited to students from developing countries. It includes both full tuition, a monthly allowance of 750 EUR for your living expenses, and it even pays for your flight to and from your home country. The academy offers partial scholarships as well. These are also limited – to students from developing countries and countries in transition – and pay for the tuition only. You will need to pay for your own travel, accommodations and living expenses.

Tip Seek scholarships and grants

Conditions of free programmes

Some free MBA or Master’s programmes you may find refer only to the cost, and not to any other conditions or expectations of graduates. Many have heard of the prestigious Stanford US MBA Scholarship. This programme pays tuition and fees for three people each year to pursue an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (US), a value of up to USD 160,000. Apart from the limited availability, the scholarship sounds like a dream. However, further examination reveals a catch. Not only must applicants qualify for need-based financial aid, but they also have to demonstrate a strong connection with a state in the Midwest US and agree to at least two years of employment in the region, which must begin within two years of graduating from the MBA programme.

Check out: Key Factors to Win MBA Scholarships

Check out: How to Win a Scholarship? (Q&A)

Free MBA or low-cost Master’s programmes in certain countries

Some developed countries provide free or low-cost MBA or Master’s programmes to their own citizens, but occasionally to international students as well. This is more common in Scandinavia, where countries have higher tax rates. For example, Sweden provides undergraduate, post-graduate, and PhD programmes with no tuition at all, but these are limited to students from within the European Union (EU) or from other Nordic countries that may not be part of the EU. In Norway, however, international students also receive free tuition to universities – even to Master’s programmes – in exchange for a nominal fee per term, so small it is not worth mentioning.

Check out: 11 of the Weirdest Scholarships Students Can Get

Consider all expenses

The idea of free tuition to a Master’s programme is, on the surface, quite appealing; however, ensure that you understand all the expenses associated with that education. Not only will you have the cost of tuition, but you will need an allowance for accommodations and living expenses, which can be quite expensive in some areas of the world. You may also have university fees associated with the programme for which you are responsible. There is also the matter of books or equipment you may need to purchase for the programme courses. And international students must consider the cost of travel to and from the school they select.

Why do for-profit B-schools offer scholarships?

One may think a free MBA or Master’s programme is only available at a public university, but that is simply not true. There are many reasons why a private or for-profit B-school or university may offer scholarships. The article in US News, “6 Reasons Private Colleges are Awarding More Merit Scholarships,” outlines various motivations schools have for providing assistance:

  1. To attract and encourage good students.
  2. To execute philanthropists’ requests.
  3. To compete with low-priced public universities or generous private colleges.
  4. To reduce “sticker-shock” by giving students and parents an early idea of what their true out-of-pocket expenses will be.
  5. To make up for some out-of-touch rules that consider many middle class families not “needy”.
  6. To meet expectations of rewards from the current generation of teenagers.

In some cases, the scholarship or fellowship is not provided by the university at all. An innovative programme out of Spain provides tuition for international students that agree to live in the Andalusia region upon graduation. This is an effort to boost economic development by attracting top students who will bring the benefit of a higher education to an underdeveloped region.

A free MBA or low-cost Master’s programme will never equate to an inferior education. If you are diligent enough to receive tuition assistance in any form, you will still receive the same quality education you would if you were paying in full for your tuition and expenses. With that in mind, pursue these options with the same intensity and care that you would apply to a job search, and make every effort to set yourself apart from other candidates in any way you can. Your hard work may pay off in more ways than one.