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How Do You Pay for Graduate School

January 28, 2021

Finding Options that are Right for You

Whether you plan to be a full time or part time student, one of the biggest concerns for people considering and advanced degree is how they are going to pay for graduate school. The answer of what’s best can vary for each person. In most cases, universities offer a variety of ways to help finance a graduate level degree. Employee benefits, like corporate tuition remission and corporate partnership discounts, exist at many institutions. In addition, limited internal and external scholarships and student loans are all ways to help with funding and offset the cost of attendance.

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While cost is often a formidable obstacle for those seeking to attend grad school, it should never be an insurmountable one. To help facilitate the financing process, we have collected a list of some of the most helpful financing tips for students pursuing a graduate level degree.

Loans: One of the most common financing options for graduate programs is through the use of loans. Did you know that graduate students can apply for federal student aid through the federal government? Federal Student Aid is an office of the U.S. Department of Education and provides a variety of federally funded loans for graduate students.

  • An unsubsidized loan is NOT based on financial need. In this type of loan, interest is charged while the student is in school, and during grace and deferment periods. Interest accrued during these periods will be capitalized onto the principal amount borrowed when the student drops below half-time enrollment. When students complete the Master Promissory note (MPN) they are given the option of making interest payments during the in-school period.
  • A grad PLUS loan is available for credit worthy graduate and professional students. Students can borrow up to the full cost of attendance, less other financial aid received. Interest is charged during all periods, just like the unsubsidized loan. Students are eligible for an in-school deferment while enrolled in school on at least a half-time basis.
  • In addition to federal loans, non-federal, private student loans may be an option to consider. With an alternative/private loan, terms and conditions such as interest rates and loan fees will vary depending on the private lender and the borrower's credit worthiness. Private loans are provided by commercial lenders and offer different loan options based on program of study. Generally, students can borrow up to the cost of attendance, minus other aid. Repayment plans are determined by the lending institution. All alternative loans require students to complete a separate application every year.

If a student has not taken out loans previously, an online Loan Entrance Counseling session includes information on the loans, interest rates and repayment options.

The best part about loans? You can borrow as much or as little as you need to help with the cost of attendance. Graduate students are afforded a higher federal loan cap for grad school – $138,500 - so if you have undergraduate loans, you are still eligible at the graduate level. You can rest easy knowing there are options out there to help finance your educational goals.

Visit the FAFSA website to start your free application for federal student aid.

Employer Tuition Benefits: If they are available from your employer, corporate partnership discounts and corporate tuition remission can be excellent opportunities for financing a graduate level degree. Many universities have partnerships with local hospitals, schools, and businesses. This allows them to offer discounts for employees of those partnership organizations. Check with your Human Resources department about possible corporate partner discounts.

Fellowships: Fellowships are unique opportunities that help prepare graduate students for their careers after graduate school. They often resemble employment, but are geared more toward supporting a student’s academic growth in their field of study, as well as their financial needs. Fellowships can be quite competitive, though that is not a reason to avoid applying! A fellowship can truly be a life changing opportunity.

Fellowships differ across universities. As one example, Creighton students who are appointed to a fellowship are required to provide 20 hours of service per week. Work is assigned by a program director during the nine-month academic year. Fellowships may include a stipend, plus the remission of tuition and laboratory fees. All general university fees, however, must be paid by the Fellows. More information about Creighton’s fellowship opportunities can be found on the Graduate Fellowships page.

Grants and Scholarships: Grants and scholarships might be the first thing you think about when financial aid is mentioned. Grants and scholarships can significantly reduce your costs, or even eliminate them entirely. Scholarships are most often offered by colleges or universities and are given to applicants by merit of their background, skills, or interests. Scholarships may also be offered by organizations and businesses in your community. Churches, non-profits and even government agencies may be able to offer you scholarships.

Living Frugally: This is an obvious one, but it bears including. From 2009-2011 Ken Ilgunas, a student at Duke University’s graduate school, lived in a van to avoid going into debt. He showered at the campus gym and made all his own meals. He later wrote a piece for The New York Times detailing his experience. “I had been accepted into Duke’s graduate liberal studies program, but I couldn’t afford it. I had just paid off my $32,000 undergraduate debt, I was nearly broke, and the prospect of taking out loans was unthinkable.”

Ken’s van-inhabiting lifestyle was very effective, although there is not always a need for such extreme measures. If you still want your own indoor plumbing, you can have it. But consider evaluating your living expenses, tracking your spending, building healthy budgeting techniques and living frugally if such decisions are possible for you. Here is a list of some helpful frugal living techniques from gograd.com.

Financing a graduate degree can be a daunting task, but there are ways to keep costs down, and opportunities for financial help. Searching for those avenues of financial support takes commitment, but hopefully these tips have helped you find new avenues for success. The cost of a graduate level education can seem formidable, but with the right resources, it should never feel out of your reach.