It's no secret that graduate school can be expensive. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average two-year program typically costs between $44,000 and $57,000.
So, if you're considering a master’s degree, you may be wondering how you will pay for it. And if you have existing debt from your undergraduate program, you might be especially worried about cost.
The good news? There are plenty of practical ways to get through grad school without taking on insurmountable debt.
How to Pay for Graduate School
So, what are some of the best options to help you pay for graduate school? Let's dive in.
Many schools and graduate programs offer scholarships, which are typically merit-based. Some schools may automatically offer scholarships based on an applicant's GPA at a previous school, GRE scores, or other criteria. Some scholarships may automatically renew from one year to the next, whereas others may be a one-time offering.
Individual departments or even third-party agencies may also offer scholarships, though students typically need to apply for these separately. You may be required to write an essay or complete some other project to be considered—but if you are chosen for a scholarship, this can alleviate some of your financial burden.
Inquire with your college directly or check out a reputable third-party service to find available scholarships.
Another option to consider is applying for grants. These are similar to scholarships in the sense that you never have to pay the money back, though grants are typically need-based rather than merit-based. Grants are typically offered by government agencies (such as the Department of Education)—and the best way to be considered for grants is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA).
You may also want to explore any fellowship opportunities offered by your school. Akin to a scholarship, a fellowship refers to competitive, merit-based financial support, usually offered directly from a school or university. However, some independent organizations and government agencies may also sponsor graduate fellowships.
Most fellowships are awarded per academic year, though some will automatically "renew" each year a student is enrolled (so long as certain conditions are met).
Work Part-Time During School
Many graduate students work while they're in school to cover education expenses and build up savings. In fact, a Georgetown University study found that 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week. Working while attending grad school can be a great way to avoid taking out loans and help cover living expenses during your course of study, though you'll need to have some time management skills to balance the demands of work and school simultaneously.
Does your school or program offer any assistantships for graduate students? Specifically, an assistantship is an academic position that pays a stipend in exchange for a certain number of hours worked per week. Teaching assistantships are perhaps the most common, allowing students to serve as teaching assistants (often in undergraduate seminar classes). However, research assistantships and other options may also be available.
Assistantships are ideal because they allow you to gain some valuable experience in academia while offsetting your education costs. Plus, they often renew each academic year until you've completed your graduate program.
Federal Work-Study Programs
Another need-based option to consider when paying for graduate school is a Federal Work-Study program. These programs, funded through the federal government, allow graduate students to earn money through on-campus jobs. With a work-study position, you may be employed at your school (such as at the school library or in a campus office)—but the federal government is the entity paying you.
Work-study programs are useful because they allow students to get hands-on work experience while earning money that can offset the costs of schooling. To be considered for this type of federal program, you'll need to fill out your FAFSA.
Tuition Reimbursement Programs
If you're already employed and will be working your way through school, inquire with your employer about any tuition reimbursement programs that may be available. Not all employers offer these, but some will reimburse employees for a portion (or all) of their education costs—especially if the employee is pursuing a degree that will sharpen their skills at work. If your employer doesn't offer tuition reimbursement, you might even consider proposing a program to HR.
If you serve or have ever served in the United States military, you may be eligible for benefits that can help you pay for graduate school. The Post-9/11 GI Bill®, the Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty and Veterans, and the Military College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) are all options worth exploring.
Borrow - Federal Loans
Student loans are available through the federal government, so this may be an option worth exploring if you need to borrow some money to cover the expense of your graduate degree. Submitting your completed FAFSA will determine your eligibility for these loans, which may be subsidized or unsubsidized. Ideally, you'll want subsidized federal loans, as you will not be charged interest on these loans until after you finish school.
Borrow - Private Loans
Private loans are another option to consider, especially if you've maxed out your borrowing through the federal government or simply want a more competitive interest rate. If you go this route, just be sure to do your research and choose a reputable lender with reasonable loan terms.
Explore Online Degrees
Another potential way to make graduate school more affordable is to enroll in an online degree program rather than a "traditional" program on campus. Many students also find that online programs are more flexible and convenient for their busy schedules, especially for students who are working their way through school. With an online degree, you'll also eliminate transportation costs associated with getting yourself to and from campus.
Take Advantage of Tax Credits
Last but not least, don't forget to take advantage of tax credits that are available to take lessen the burden of paying for graduate school. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) are two options to explore. Meanwhile, if you're paying any interest on your student loans while in school, be sure to deduct this when you file your taxes.
Steps to Consider When Paying for Grad School
As you prepare for graduate school, there are a few other steps you'll want to take to alleviate some of the stress associated with paying for school.
Research Potential Earnings
If you'll be graduating with some debt (as more than 54% of grad students do), understanding your earnings potential once you enter the workforce is a must. Take some time to research how much you can expect to earn with an entry-level job in your field once you graduate, then consider how you might be able to allocate some of those earnings towards paying down your loans. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource for median pay information by occupation.
Complete FAFSA Paperwork
Don't forget to fill out and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid® by the deadline! This way, you'll automatically be considered for many needs-based student aid options (including grants and work-study opportunities). Remember that you'll need to fill out a new FAFSA each year you're in school.
Explore Financing Options
Some schools offer graduate student payment plans, which allow you to spread out the cost of each semester or academic year with monthly payments. These payment plans typically do not have any interest or fees associated with them, though late penalties may apply if you miss a deadline.
Take a Financial Planning Course
Still feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of paying for grad school? Improving your financial literacy can empower you to budget for your graduate program with confidence. Consider enrolling in an online financial planning course and gain the tools you need to succeed not just in school, but later in life as well.
Explore Affordable Graduate Programs Today
Figuring out how to pay for grad school will require some careful planning and budgeting on your part. Still, you've got plenty of solutions to explore, ranging from student loan options and assistantships to grants and scholarships.
Looking for an affordable graduate program that will set you up for success? Explore a wide range of programs at University of the Cumberlands today!