Many students attend graduate school in order to boost their income and career potential. According to Forbes, individuals with a master’s degree earn nearly $13,000 more annually than those with bachelor’s degrees.
However, graduate school can be expensive. In 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the average cost of tuition and required fees to attend graduate school was $19,314, not including other important expenses like room and board.
Thankfully, there are many strategies you can use to pay for graduate school and most of them do not require you to take out student loans and acquire student loan debt.
In this guide, we’ll cover four financing strategies you can use to pay for graduate school: fellowships and scholarships, work-study programs, tuition reimbursement, and student loans.
1. Find “FREE” Money
One of the best ways to pay for graduate school is to apply for scholarships, fellowships, and grants (i.e. money you don’t have to pay back later). Typically, graduate programs award these scholarships and fellowships based on merit, not financial need.
Universities may offer fellowships in order to encourage you to choose their program. You can also apply for a private organization’s fellowship or the federal government’s “portable” fellowship. For example, the Department of Defense offers a three-year fellowship for selected science and engineering students that covers tuition and fees at the recipient’s school of choice.
Fellowship programs provide funds to promising graduate school students so that they can focus on their studies without having to take on additional teaching or research responsibilities.
Researching and finding fellowships or scholarships on the websites of government agencies or professional organizations is the key many use to finance grad school.
Grants are also used by students as a supplemental way to pay for grad school. These are often given directly to students by schools, professional associations, and private organizations. Unlike fellowships and scholarships, however, grants are typically awarded based on financial need.
2. Use a Portion of your Paycheck
In addition to scholarships, fellowships, and grants, graduate students may also use money from their assistantships.
Graduate assistantships are generally teaching (TA) and research (RA) jobs for which you’ll be paid a salary or stipend. Both roles may include tuition remission, which means the school will pay you to attend, and some even include a living stipend to help students pay for food and rent.
In exchange, graduate students work about 15 to 20 hours a week for a professor on campus and assist with research or teaching a course.
Proactivity is essential when it comes to obtaining an assistantship. Once you know the specific field you want to study, focus on those programs and the faculty members in those programs who might need a student assistant.
3. Ask your Employer about Tuition Reimbursement
If you’re currently employed, your employer or company might have a tuition reimbursement or tuition assistance program for graduate degrees. In these programs, companies will pay for some or all of your graduate education.
However, be sure you check with your human resources department about any conditions or commitments required for your company’s funding. Some employers require you to make a service commitment to the company and stay a certain number of years after earning your graduate degree. If you leave before that commitment term ends, you might have to repay all of the tuition.
4. Borrow Smart
Regardless of whether you are able to earn a fellowship, scholarship, work-study position, or receive tuition reimbursement, you may still have to take out student loans to cover your tuition or basic living expenses while attending graduate school.
In order to receive a loan, students will need to fill out the FAFSA. Then, students choose from either a federal direct unsubsidized loan or a federal direct graduate PLUS loan.
Federal direct unsubsidized loans pay out up to $20,500 a year and currently carry a fixed interest rate of 6.6 percent. Students are responsible for paying the interest that occurs during the entire time they are enrolled.
On the other hand, federal direct graduate PLUS loans carry a higher interest rate at 7.6 percent and about 4 percent in fees. Private loans are also available, but the interest rates can vary between 4.50 to 10.11 percent.
Taking out student loans is often a necessary part of getting the education you need in order to further your career. However, be sure you can pay back your loans on time and do your best to limit your borrowing only to the amount you’ll need to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses.
Obtaining a graduate degree is a proven investment in your future career. While paying for graduate school is challenging, it can be done as long as you do your research, look at the return on investment of your chosen degree, and you have a plan in place to repay any debt you take on.
At University of Bridgeport, our tuition and graduate school fees are always transparent, so that students can know what to expect (and to plan their finances) before starting classes. Learn about tuition costs for our graduate school programs here.
Contact University of Bridgeport today to learn about our accredited graduate programs and ways we can help you finance your graduate education! You may also learn about our graduate school financial aid options by visiting us online, here.