How to Pay for Graduate School

young woman in grad school working on a laptop

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When you are attending graduate school, you may have to borrow money in order to meet your expenses. The government does not offer Pell grants to graduate students. However, you should try to avoid loans as much as possible. There are resources available to help pay for the cost of graduate school. Before you go back, it's a good idea to make a financial plan so you know how you'll be paying for school. Here's where to start:

Apply for Funding Through School 

First, you should apply for grants, scholarships, and other funding when you are applying to graduate school. This should include teaching assistantships and research assistantships. The TA and RA positions will usually pay for the cost of tuition and fees, as well as give you a stipend to live on each month.

Some of the scholarships will do the same thing. The assistantship positions may require that you do not take on additional employment. The book Debt-Free U by Zac Bissonnette recommends considering the cost of your tuition and your financial assistance when choosing your school. Take the time to research your options and apply for every scholarship and grant that is available to you. 

Take Advantage of Federal Student Loans

You should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. Although you will not qualify for a Pell Grant, you do still qualify for Stafford loans. These are the best loans to take out if you have to take out loans. The interest rate on these loans is better, and the repayment options are better than private student loans. You should pay attention to the loan counseling that you are required to take from the school and be sure that your degree will enable you to pay back the loans once you graduate. 

Determine Your Living Expenses

You need to set up a monthly budget so that you can determine your living expenses. Add this amount to your tuition and fees. This will give you the total amount that you will need to borrow in order to pay for graduate school. If you are paying for a more expensive program, such as medical or law school you will need to find a large amount of money to cover the cost of tuition.

If you are currently living on your own, you may want to consider getting a roommate so that you can save on rent. If you have been working for a few years, you need to set up a bare-bones budget and cut back your lifestyle so that you limit the amount of debt that you incur. 

Consider Working While in Graduate School

Many graduate programs cater to professionals that are currently working. There are programs that offer evening or weekend classes or that allow you to complete your work online or require a meeting just once a semester. These programs are also offered by respected universities. You should consider one of these programs because you will be able to continue to work while you are in school and that can help lower the amount that you need to borrow each year.

Additionally, you should see if your employer will help to cover all or some of the cost of graduate school. Many employers will pay for part or all of your tuition. The programs that cater to professionals are structured a bit differently so that you can handle working and going to school at the same time. You may also opt to work while completing your graduate degree in a traditional program. You may need to find a more flexible job that will work around your schoolwork. 

Use Private Student Loans as a Last Resort

Once you have determined how much funding you will receive, you need to consider how much money you need to borrow. You should start by using your Stafford loans, and then turn to private lenders if you have to. Be sure that you are going into a field that will make the degree worth having. It doesn’t make sense to borrow $60,000 in order to raise your current salary by only a few thousand each year. You want your salary to be able to handle the student loan payments for you.

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  1. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Pell Grants." Accessed April 21, 2021.

  2. Federal Student Aid. "Financial Aid for Graduate or Professional Students." Accessed April 21, 2021.

  3. Zac Bissonnette. "Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents." Penguin, 2010.

  4. Federal Student Aid. "Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans." Accessed April 21, 2021.

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