How to Pay for Grad School
By Bridget Kulla
September 04, 2008
Unlike grants and fellowships, assistantships require students to work around 15 hours a week assisting in research or teaching part time. Assistantships are most common in the physical sciences and students receive, on average, $10,000, according to the . In some schools, you are automatically considered for an assistantship with your financial aid package. Some programs require students to be more proactive.
“I started talking to professors and seeing what their research was and what their interests were during the middle of the year to get an assistantship for the next year,” Lawton says.
If you can’t cover your costs through fellowships and assistantships, don’t despair. Nearly 60 percent of master’s degree students and more than 85 percent of professional school students borrow to meet their tuition costs. The average debt for graduate students is $23,700, according to a study by . Graduate students can borrow through federal or private lenders.
To qualify for federal loans (and much private financial aid), grad students must submit a FAFSA. The federal PLUS Loan, which, until recently, was only available to the parents of college students, now lends graduate students up to the cost of attendance.
Employer Assistance Programs
Don’t overlook a valuable source of aid — your employer. In the 2003-2004 school year, 21 percent of graduate students received tuition aid from their employers, according to the . Employer tuition reimbursement is tax-free up to $5,250 through 2010. On average, employers with reimbursement plans contribute $3,000 to tuition.
This benefit frequently comes with strings attached. Most employers require their employees to maintain a certain grade point average, usually a “B”, while receiving funding. Some employers also require employees who receive tuition reimbursement to commit to stay with the company for a period of time after they complete their degree or they will have to return the money. If your employer doesn’t offer a tuition reimbursement benefit, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ll help with tuition costs.
You may be living on a tight budget while in graduate school, but an advanced degree has advantages. Not only will it help you become more knowledgeable about an area of study that interests you, but, on average, than those with only an undergraduate degree.
“Grad school is doable. It’s scary and it’s a lot of money, but I think in the long run it’s worth it, even if it takes a while to pay it off,” Lawton says.