How Can I Afford Graduate School?

Finding ways to afford graduate school is tricky with today’s expensive college climate. Unless you have thousands socked away in a 529 savings plan, covering graduate costs won’t be easy. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that master’s and PhD students pay an average tuition of $16,435 annually for their advanced degree. Private, non-profit colleges are particularly costly with mean annual prices of $23,698. But that doesn’t mean you should fold your dream of earning extra acronyms after your name. Graduate school can become less burdensome when you apply for several sources of financial aid. The following are the four most lucrative options available to cut expenses.

Scholarships and Fellowships

Securing free tuition money through scholarships and fellowships is essential. Most are merit-based, but not having straight As isn’t a reason to fret. Scholarships are granted by many academic departments based on leadership, research, and career potential. It’s also possible to receive scholarship funding from private organizations and community foundations. For example, the Truman Scholars Program gives 65 competitive scholarships for $30,000 apiece to graduate students in public service fields.
Fellowships are slightly different because they gift funding in exchange for internships or service commitments. Some popular ones include the Watson Fellowship, Sloan Research Fellowship, and Fulbright Fellowship.

Graduate PLUS Loans

Chances are you’ve already acquired some debt while earning your four-year bachelor’s degree before graduate school. Therefore, federal financial aid from the Graduate PLUS loans should be used sparingly. Students can begin by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You must be enrolled at least half-time at an accredited graduate school and have a good credit history to qualify. There’s no maximum amount offered, but plan your borrowing. Graduate PLUS loans currently have an interest rate of 6.84 percent and charge 4.2 percent loan fees. Repayment can take anywhere from 10 to 25 years based on your income.

Graduate Assistantships

Serving your university as a graduate assistant is an excellent way to afford graduate school and pad your resume. Assistantships can involve teaching, research, or administrative duties. Full-time assistantships generally require working 20 hours per week in the classroom or laboratory under faculty supervision. Most universities only grant assistantships to students taking at least eight credits per semester. In exchange for your work, you’ll earn full or partial tuition remission. Stipends could be provided to defray living costs on a monthly basis. For certain schools, graduate assistantships also provide credits for health insurance coverage.

Employer Tuition Assistance

If you’re currently working, getting your boss to fund your graduate studies is another option. A Society for Human Resource Management survey found that 61 percent of employers offer tuition assistance for professional development. Most companies strive to improve their workforce’s training and skills without hiring new employees. Up to $5,250 of the employer tuition assistance provided can come tax-free. Keep in mind that the graduate degree must be related to your current job. For example, companies could fund an MBA for an accountant. Some tuition assistance programs may come with a stipulation that you maintain employment with the company for two to five years.

When the above resources simply aren’t enough to fulfill your financial need, consider applying to fully funded programs. Not only do fully funded master’s and PhD programs set tuition costs at $0, but they also award stipends for living expenses. Instead of paying, you work for the university on research projects or teaching courses. That’s an ideal way to afford graduate school and advance your education without monetary fear.

Please also visit: Cheapest Online Colleges for Master’s Degrees.