How to Pay for Grad School: Useful Tips
Here's what you need to know about the best ways to pay for your graduate education.
Deciding to pursue a graduate degree is a good choice: further education can help you land a better-paying job and pave the way to more career opportunities in the future. However, a graduate degree can be quite an investment. Before you apply, it’s important to carefully plan for how you’ll finance grad school. That includes examining all the options available, choosing those that work best in light of your circumstances, and identifying typical planning pitfalls to avoid. Here are some valuable tips that will help you make sound financial decisions about how to pay for grad school, with and without student loans.
How To Pay For Grad School Without Loans
Scholarships and fellowships
If you need financial aid but would like to avoid debt, your first step should be to explore scholarships and fellowships that might be available. This type of financial aid is the best option as it’s money you don't need to return, so you will not end up with student debt. Remember that this type of award is typically based on merit or achievement, and that fellowships may require research in return for the reward. There are many local and national scholarships and fellowships; the trick is to find the ones you are eligible to receive. Do your research carefully and then try your luck.
The best way to get information on these options is to contact the grad school to which you’re applying. Reaching out directly to the institution right away will help you gain a thorough understanding of your options regarding paying for grad school.
Grants are non-repayable financial assistance that students can get based on financial need. Some institutions also take academic success into account. In most cases, you'll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Sometimes you may need to submit a separate application with additional financial information as well as a statement outlining your academic accomplishments and objectives.
Work and study
Working while getting your graduate degree is not easy. You must be mindful of your time, balance all responsibilities, and stay dedicated. If you are ready for the challenge, here are some excellent options that will help you with financing graduate school without going into debt.
1. Federal work-study program
The first option to explore is the federal work-study program (FWS). FWS can provide you with a job (on or off campus), so be sure to look into this option and check your eligibility. Start by contacting your school's financial aid office to determine if that particular school participates in the program. Then, you need to complete the FAFSA. After that, you'll have to wait for the school to inform you whether you are eligible and, if so, to determine the amount of aid available. US citizenship or permanent residence is a requirement for this program, so this option is not available to international students.
2. Graduate assistantship
Another helpful option to explore is a graduate assistantship. Graduate assistantships allow graduate students to work a certain number of hours per week and get a tuition waiver or a monthly living stipend as compensation. Assistantships for graduate students can be research based or teaching based, and can be a great way to gain professional experience while earning some money to help you pay for grad school.
Remember that, in most cases, these two options won't cover all your costs and that you'll have to combine these strategies with other ways of financing graduate school.
3. Employer education benefits
Pursuing a graduate degree will expand your knowledge and increase your value as an employee. Some large companies finance all or a portion of their employees’ graduate studies through tuition aid or reimbursement because doing so can increase a workforce’s collective skill and allow the company to avoid hiring new employees. So if you already have a job, you should check to see whether your employer would be willing to help you pay for your graduate degree.
There are benefits for employers as well: they can make tax-free student loan payments of up to $5,250 on behalf of their employees each year. That means that neither you nor your employer pays taxes on this money. Of course, be mindful of the conditions: you might be committing to working for that employer for a certain period after receiving your graduate degree. If you leave your job before that time, you might have to pay back the entire tuition, so make sure you understand exactly what you are signing up for.
All in all, researching options on how to pay for grad school without loans is worth your while; do it carefully before you start looking into other ways of financing graduate school.
How To Pay For Grad School With Student Loans
If, after exploring all the options above, you are still trying to figure out how to afford grad school, loans are another option worth considering. There are several federal and private loans available to graduate students. While they can certainly help you pay your grad school costs, keep in mind this is the money you have to pay back with interest.
To determine how much you will need to borrow, you need to calculate the overall cost of attendance for the program you have chosen. You’ll need to consider different costs, including tuition, room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and loan fees. Once you know the exact amount of money you'll spend on your studies, you can go ahead and apply for federal and private loans. Keep in mind that the financial aid you receive can never exceed the estimated cost of attendance.
While federal loans are generally a better choice, remember that these loans for graduate school are unsubsidized. That means you're responsible for paying all the interest on them. If you are eligible, you can borrow up to $20,500 per year ($138,500 in total).
Unlike federal loans that come from the government, private loans come from different sources, such as banks and credit unions. Interest rates can vary significantly, based primarily on your credit score. Your interest rate determines the final amount of your student debt and influences your monthly payment, so always remember to compare rates before taking out a loan. It’s also generally considered a good idea to pay the loan back as soon as possible after getting your degree.
The cost of graduate programs varies a lot. In order to get a close estimate, you need to calculate the cost of attendance. It should include tuition, room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and loan fees.
If you are wondering how to pay for graduate school without taking out a loan, the best options to explore are scholarships and fellowships, federal work-study programs, and graduate assistantships.
The average cost of tuition and fees for a master's degree is $62,650, although the price varies depending on the subject and school. Explore scholarships, fellowships and work/study options, then look into federal student loans and private loans only as a last resort.