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How to Pay for Grad School

Last updated 11/02/2022 by

Eliana Carmona
If you’re considering pursuing your masters or graduate degree, your first major obstacle is the cost. How are you supposed to pay for grad school when you’re already struggling to pay off your undergraduate loans?
But secondary education comes with advantages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person with a master’s degree typically earns a whopping $40,000 more yearly than someone who only holds a bachelor’s degree. And workers who earn their Ph.D. are entitled to even higher earnings.
Are you considering a masters or graduate degree, but not sure how you’ll finance it? We’ll tell you everything you need to know to pay for graduate school, without getting mired in debt.

How to pay for graduate school

Look for “free money”

When gearing up to pay for grad school, the first thing you should do is look for money you won’t have to pay back. Not sure where to start? Try the following strategies!

Get a research or teaching assistantship

Some lucky graduate students don’t just go to school for free — they actually get paid to get their degree! By working as a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant, you can work on-campus in exchange for a living stipend and a full reimbursement of your tuition.
Not every graduate program offers TA positions, so you should vet your options carefully and prioritize schools which will offer you the best opportunities.

Look for scholarships, grants, and fellowships

If you’re struggling to pay for grad school, scholarships, grants, and fellowships are all great ways to supplement your tuition fund. Grants are typically need-based; scholarships can be need- or merit-based, while fellowships are generally merit-based. Like an assistantship, a fellowship will reimburse you for some or all of your tuition, and may even provide a living stipend. Best of all, unlike an assistantship, fellowships don’t require you to work for your funds.
When researching schools, email each admissions office and ask about merit scholarships and other financial aid programs. Don’t forget to find out whether their scholarships are renewable.

Investigate programs specific to your graduate program

Are you going to medical school? There are a ton of programs which provide scholarships specifically to aspiring doctors. Check out the American Medical Association, American Medical Women’s Association, and American Podiatric Medical Association for opportunities.
Med students can also look into service programs, which cover part or all of your tuition in exchange for your commitment to work for a government or military program for a designated time period. Check out the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship, the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), or a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for more info.
Are you applying to law school? There are specialized programs for you, too! Seek out scholarships from the American Bar Association, the Federal Circuit Bar Association, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), or the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). Or explore loan forgiveness opportunities with the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and the Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LARPS).
Whatever your intended degree, there are likely scholarship and loan forgiveness programs tailored specifically for you. Google [your degree] + “loan forgiveness” or [your degree] + “scholarships” to find the programs best suited for you.

Build out your savings before applying

As soon as you decide to apply to graduate school, you should start saving money. The more you’re able to afford out-of-pocket, the less you’ll have to take out in loans. Once you’re a student, your time will be much more limited, so it’s wise to work as much overtime as possible before school begins. You can also ramp up your income by taking on side gigs.

Employer-sponsored programs

Many companies support their employees by paying for a chunk of the cost of education. Be sure to talk to your employer and find out if they provide any such programs.

Keep costs low

Suppose you’ve sleuthed out all of the “free money” you can find, but it only covers half of the cost of your tuition. How can you pay for grad school while staving off student debt? Try these strategies for lowering the cost of your graduate degree.

Seek out the shortest program you can find

Getting your masters degree can take anywhere between one and three years. If you have a choice, you should choose the one-year program. Why? It’s basic math: paying for one year of school is vastly cheaper than paying for three.

Consider a public school

Getting your degree at a public organization will still be expensive, but it’ll be far less costly than a degree from a private university. However, don’t make any assumptions. Private universities often offer more financial aid opportunities than their public counterparts. That said, if you are not eligible for any grants or scholarships, then tuition at a public school will almost certainly be a better deal.

Borrow money judiciously

If you’ve already taken advantage of all the “free money” you can qualify for and you still need to finance part of your tuition costs, it’s time to turn to loans. The prospect of taking on more student debt might sound scary, but don’t worry. As long as you cautiously vet your options, you can keep your debt under control.

Apply for federal student loans

If you must turn to student loans, you’ll likely get a better rate on federal loans than you would with a private student lender. Plus, when you apply for federal loans, you may even qualify for additional financial aid. All you have to do is fill out a single application, the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), to find out what you qualify for.

Vet private student lenders carefully

If you still need to finance part of your degree, it’s time to turn to private student lenders. Be sure to compare the offers of at least three different lenders in order to find the best deal. To keep costs low, take the loan with the lowest interest rate and the shortest loan term that you can comfortably afford. Plus, don’t forget to keep an eye out for hidden fees, like origination fees and prepayment fees.

Getting started

Getting your degree is expensive. But with the right set of strategies, you can pay for grad school without breaking the bank. Look for every grant, scholarship, and assistantship at your disposal. Seek out financial aid programs specifically tailored to your field of study, and work to keep your education as low-cost as possible. If you must take out student loans, fill out the FAFSA before turning to private lenders. And when working with private lenders, compare at least three offers before committing to anything.

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Want to find out what you can expect from student lenders? Compare private student lenders here! Educating yourself is an essential step to ensure that you get the best rates on your loans.

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