Students attend graduate school to gain more knowledge in a specific field, increase their future earning power, or switch careers. But depending on the type and length of the program, grad schools can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether you’re planning to get your master’s, Ph.D., MBA, or J.D. degree, here are nine things you should know about paying for grad school.
1. START RESEARCHING YOUR OPTIONS EARLY.
If you know what type of graduate program you want to attend, start researching your options early. Different schools offer a variety of scholarships, fellowships, grants and department funding, and starting the application process early will increase your odds of receiving money from a university’s limited funds. After reading about your options on the university’s website, speak to a representative from the school’s financial aid department.
2. CONSIDER STUDYING PART-TIME FOR YOUR DEGREE.
If you’re willing to spend more time earning your degree, consider taking classes part-time instead of as a full-time student. Depending on the program, earning your degree part-time may cost less than a full-time program, and you won’t lose a year (or more) of income while you’re studying.
3. DON’T OVERLOOK YOUR PROFESSORS.
If you’re currently in college, ask professors in your area of study to recommend relevant scholarships, fellowships or grants for which you could apply. Even if you graduated years ago, get in touch with your old professors to benefit from their knowledge and contacts. And because most scholarship applications require letters of recommendation, your professors can also help by vouching for you.
4. ASK YOUR EMPLOYER TO FUND YOU.
If you’re currently working and your graduate degree will be in the same field, check with your company’s human resources department to determine if there is a tuition assistance or reimbursement program. Even if your company doesn’t have a formal policy in place, don’t be afraid to ask about getting a salary advance or time off for studying. Keep in mind, though, that in exchange for funding, your employer may require you to maintain a high GPA or work for them for a certain amount of time after you get your degree.
5. THINK ABOUT MOVING STATES.
Because many grad schools charge less tuition for in-state rather than out-of-state students, consider moving. Depending on the state, you may be able to establish residency in six months to a year. If it’s not feasible to move states before you begin your program, you may be able to apply for in-state status after a year of living in-state. Some schools also offer in-state tuition to residents of nearby states as part of a regional college exchange.
6. APPLY TO WORK AS A TEACHING ASSISTANT.
Depending on the university, grad students who work as teaching or research assistants may get health insurance in addition to part-time wages. To get free or reduced room and board, consider working as a resident assistant, living in a dorm and being responsible for a group of undergraduates.
7. CHOOSE WISELY BETWEEN FEDERAL AND PRIVATE LOANS.
The federal government offers grad students loans with fixed interest rates, while private lenders and banks offer student loans with variable interest rates. This means the interest rates on private loans may start lower, but have the ability to rise. When they do, you may need to refinance your private loans to get a better rate, and private loans often have fewer, less flexible repayment options than federal loans.
8. WORK IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR TO QUALIFY FOR LOAN FORGIVENESS.
If you opt for a federal student loan, consider working in the public sector after you graduate. Thanks to a loan forgiveness program, the government will forgive the rest of your debt after you make your monthly payments for 10 years. The catch? You must work full-time for the government or a not-for-profit organization. Some grad schools offer their own forgiveness programs to graduates, rewarding those who choose careers in teaching, healthcare or not-for-profits.
9. REMEMBER TO CLAIM RELEVANT TAX CREDITS AND DEDUCTIONS.
Grad students can take a variety of tax credits and deductions depending on their financial situation. Before you file your tax return, make sure you have a solid understanding of the requirements for taking any deductions for grad school. Ask an accountant if you qualify for the lifetime learning tax credit, student loan interest deduction or tuition deduction.