Ask D.I.: How can anyone pay for grad school?

How to pay for grad school
Do you know how you’re going to pay for grad school?

How the heck does anyone pay for grad school? As asked by an anonymous user on Tumblr:

I’m thinking about going to back to school but I’m worried about the cost. Just finished paying off my loans from undergrad, and I don’t want to do that again tbh. I’d like to hear your thoughts. How can ANYONE pay for grad school?

Grad school costs money—a lot of it. You will need to cover, tuition, fees, and everyday living expenses whilst also maintaining a good enough GPA that you stay in academic good standing. Easy, right?

However daunting it may seem, you can pay for grad school without going into ridiculous amounts of debt. Here are a few ways to cover your expenses without hurting your bank account:

Apply to fully-funded doctoral programs. Many PhD programs offer financial aid packages that fully cover the cost of school as well as living expenses. This funding can take the form of fellowships, scholarships, grants, research assistantships, and teaching apprenticeships. Research programs extensively before applying, and target programs that will help you cover the cost of attending.

Note: While some programs (like mine) offer the same financial package to all students, others do not. In these tiered programs, the most competitive students are offered the best packages, while the least competitive students are offered partial funding or even no funding at all. In this situation, a student who has been offered no funding should very strongly reconsider attending that school.

Apply for extramural funding. There are a range of scholarship, fellowship, and grant opportunities available that can help you pay for grad school. Check online databases—such as the one provided by UCLA—to find awards you may qualify for. Fair warning: these funding sources can be quite competitive, so consult with your research advisor or your school’s graduate student center to figure out how best to prepare your application.

Additionally, make sure you fill out the FAFSA. If you have a low enough income, you may qualify for need-based aid from your school or the government.

How to pay for grad school
Extramural funding can be competitive.

Work for your school. Even if research or teaching assistantships aren’t offered as part of your funding package, you can still apply to be a TA or RA. Get in touch with faculty members at relevant programs who might be interested in taking you on as an assistant. Comb through your school’s job board and subscribe to any email lists that can help you stay up to date on any open positions.

These academic positions usually offer tuition remission on top of a base salary or stipend, which is great for a grad student who is trying to cut down on expenses.

Have your employer cover the costs. Many companies offer to help employees pay for grad school via tuition reimbursement. Check with your employer to see if they offer reimbursement programs for qualified employees.

Even if there’s no established company policy about funding potential grad students, you can still potentially convince your boss to help you cover your expenses.

Save. If aren’t able to pay for grad school right now but know that you might want to go in the future, start putting some money aside now. While you might not be able to pay for the full cost of going to grad school, every little bit helps.

You should put the money in a dedicated savings account or 529 savings plan, separate from the rest of your money. This will help you stay focused on your goal.

Take out loans. If you really need to borrow, do so responsibly. Rather than looking for private loans—which tend to have higher interest rates and fees—target federally or state funded sources such as Perkins loans, Stafford loans, and Graduate PLUS loans in order to keep your overhead low.

However, think of this as a last resort, and be careful to only borrow as much as you need. This money is intended only to help you pay for grad school, not to finance a swanky apartment or a Caribbean vacation. Be frugal in order keep your debt level low.

The final verdict?

Let’s be honest: grad school isn’t going to make you rich. However, there’s no reason for your education to leave you destitute. Grad school isn’t the right choice for everyone, but if it’s something you’re interested in, don’t let the high price tag scare you. The main way students are able to pay for grad school is the same way they got accepted into school in the first place: by being smart, staying motivated, and planning ahead.

What do you think? What advice do you have for someone trying to figure out how to pay for grad school?

Do you have your own question you’d like me to answer in a future post? Email me or leave me a message on Tumblr.

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