I Can Pay for an MBA, But Not in the U.S.

by Jordan Wyn

I’m going to tell you something you might hate me for.

I’m paying for my MBA out of my savings. No loans. No debt. And when I graduate I’ll still have money left over.

I, personally, am not rich. The last job I worked was at a nonprofit and earned me about $35k a year. But I saved half of it. Half! It felt obscene at the time, it feels obscene now. But I started from a good place. I had no debt from undergraduate, I paid $500 a month for rent in an otherwise crazy expensive city, and I am on the neurotic side of frugal — spending money I don’t totally, completely justify makes me break out in hives. (Not really. Figuratively.)

Three years later I had a good chunk of money. But if I’d decided to go to a good school in the United States, that good chunk would’ve been eaten in a semester, a year at most.

So instead I decided to go to a good public school in Japan.

School is cheap in other countries. Did you know that? I had no idea until a year or two ago. One of my housemates is from France and she says her school is about $800 US a year. A YEAR. The government is involved somehow. Japan also has government-subsidized schools, public schools, that are genuinely subsidized to the point of affordability. And which, importantly, are still great schools. I go to one of them right now. I pay for everything out of my own savings and out of a stipend I get from the Japanese government (more on that in a second). I applied without the stipend, without any loans or scholarship money, because that good chunk of money was enough to cover the tuition, books and supplies, and incidentals. Here’s how I broke it down before I got here:

Tuition: $3,500 a semester, aka $7,000 a year, aka $14,000 for the two years
Books etc: $1,000 for two years (ended up being less)
Living: $1,100 a month, including housing, phone, food, and transportation.
– $470 in rent (discounted)
– $200ish for transportation
– $200 for food
– $80 for phone
– $150 for wiggle room/because I can’t do math — -
$14,000 + 1,000 + (1,100 * 24 months) = $41,400

That’s a lot of money. I’m feeling a bit faint looking at it. I’m sure I felt a bit faint when I was applying. But worst case scenario, no scholarships or stipends or anything, I could pay that much and have enough left for a ticket out of the country when I graduated. (That is not, strictly, the plan, but I didn’t want to find out what would happen if I couldn’t pay my plane fare when my Visa was up.)

Then about half a year in I got a stipend. A stipend that, after half a year of making no money, seems like some lavish gift. It’s 65,000 yen a month, or a little over $800. And bam, suddenly my food and rent are taken care of. Actually, suddenly almost all my living expenses are taken care of, because it turns out my favorite entertainment is wandering around aimlessly, and that’s free, so the whole $1,100 estimate was a bit high.

This magical stipend came from the Japanese government, which has its problems but has been pretty good to me. Funding my school, giving me money… Now they just have to let me stay here to work and we’ll be golden for life. I do hear through the grapevine that these sorts of enticements, both for tourists and skilled workers, are increasing. Japan’s population is decreasing, and thus its labor force, and one of the many ways to counter this that’s being bandied about is to bring it more foreign workers. (As for the tourists, well, they spend money.) I don’t know what the particular reasoning was behind my stipend, but it was specifically for foreign students with good GPAs financing their own education in Japan.

By the way, every semester my school hands out forms for tuition waivers or deferrals. Every semester I apply for one, saying ‘I’m too poor.’ And for every semester so far they’ve said ‘OK, you’re pretty poor, just pay half.’ So even if I don’t get my next two waivers (I’m getting that stipend after all) I’ve only paid $10,500 in tuition for my MBA.

Maybe I’m deluding myself about my post-MBA prospects, having gone to a foreign school. My school isn’t accredited, though I’m reassured that’s because the accreditation agencies are kind of iffy about the whole “government school” thing and the lack of autonomy that the school has, not the quality of the program itself. I don’t really get accreditation anyway, because it seems to fall somewhere along the spectrum between “arbitrary” and “a scam.” But really I’m feeling pretty good. I learned a lot of cool, useful stuff. I had this big amazing cross cultural adventure and got out from behind the America Fuck Yeah lens from which I and most white Americans approach the world. (Not to say that POC Americans can’t also do so, but it seems like as the number of factors in which you deviate from ‘white and male’ in America is proportional to the likelihood you will be aware of things that are not awesome in America.) I have a story. And despite the foreign, non-accredited, cheap school that probably no one in the U.S. has ever heard of, when I do go back, and ‘Tokyo, Japan’ is one of the top lines on my resume, I think that’ll get me in the door. Once I’m there, I don’t see it mattering much if my degree has all the right stamps or not. It’s the same Hi I’m Awesome, Please Hire Me tapdance. And oh, can I dance.

Jordan Wyn is an author and MBA candidate living in Tokyo.

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