Getting a graduate degree can mean big things for your career. People with graduate degrees earn on average 20 percent more than people with bachelor’s degrees, and the more educated you are, the more insulated you’ll be against unemployment.
But the prospect of paying for grad school can be daunting. The cost of a graduate degree can vary widely, depending on the field of study and the cache of the school. A master of business administration (MBA) at Harvard can cost upwards of $81,374 a year, while a master of education at the University of Michigan will cost about $13,362 a year.
Whether you choose an expensive school or a cheap one, there is funding available to grad students to help them offset their tuition costs. Many people even manage to go to grad school tuition-free. Here are your options to make it happen for you.
1. Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants aren’t just for undergrads. Your school will probably offer scholarships and grants – make sure you file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and talk to your financial aid office about scholarship and grant possibilities specific to your degree field or area of research.
Use tools like FastWeb, GoGrad, Unigo, and Cappex to find scholarships and grants offered by organizations outside your school. Employers, places of worship, local charity organizations, and even national organizations can offer scholarships to grad students.
Like scholarships, grants are also free money that you don’t have to pay back. Talk to your school’s financial aid office about grants you may be eligible for. Grants may be awarded based on your background, your academic achievements, or your state of residence if you’re going to school in the same state where you live. Some grants may require you to work for a stipulated period of time in return for the grant. Others come without strings attached.
Fellowships are similar to scholarships and grants. Graduate schools often give fellowships to exceptional graduate students, so they can focus on their studies without teaching or research obligations distracting them. Professional organizations and nonprofits award fellowships, and so do schools. You can file the FAFSA to apply for your school’s scholarships, grants, and fellowships.
Graduate assistantships give you the opportunity to work with professors in your field. In return, you get a tuition waiver, a stipend to cover your living expenses, and usually health insurance. You might teach or help teach undergraduate classes in your field, or you might help a professor with his or her research. Talk to your program director about available assistantships and how to apply for them.
4. Work-study Jobs
Work-study jobs are available to graduate students who can demonstrate financial need. You can apply for a work-study job by filing the FAFSA. You can talk about your options with your school’s financial aid office. The work-study program should assign you a part-time job on campus, and your earnings will either go directly toward your tuition expenses or you’ll be able to spend on living expenses.
5. Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Employers understand the value of a well-educated workforce. They also understand that encouraging their current employees to receive advanced degrees is a way to increase the skills of their workforce without hiring new personnel. Many employers will reimburse you for at least some of your tuition costs if you go back to school for a degree that’s relevant to your career. For example, you could earn an online Masters in finance and your employer would pay for at least part of it.
Many people cobble together enough scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study jobs to fully pay for their graduate degrees. Some graduate programs won’t even admit students if they can’t offer them full funding. You should always try to exhaust sources of free funding before you resort to loans. But personal and federal student loans are an option for funding grad school. If possible, get federal loans – they are cheaper and you may be able to defer payments until you finish school.
Are you thinking of going to grad school? You’d better come up with a plan to pay for it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of money available for graduate students to cover tuition costs and living expenses. File your FAFSA, talk to your financial aid office, and apply for outside scholarships and grants. As long as you’re willing to do some paperwork, you should be able to get all the money you need to pay for your education.