First, figure out the expenses associated with getting a degree. Don't just focus on tuition costs. Tally in extra commuting expenses, the price of healthcare, text books, supplies, and other additional costs. Once you've figured out your costs, calculate how much debt you can reasonably afford. Use the loan calculator on FinAid.com to calculate debt, which can be specialized for or . "Talk with students who have been in the program for a year or two. You can bounce ideas off of them and get realistic answers. They can share the strategies that they've been using to prepare for the expense and lack of income," says Allison Lawton, a graduate student studying school counseling at DePaul University. Negotiate a Better Financial Aid Package
Once you've figured out how much aid you'll need, start talking with schools. A school's financial aid offer is not set in stone. Financial aid for graduate students is based more on merit than financial need. Show schools that you will be an asset to their program and don't be afraid to ask for more money. At the graduate level, your department will be just as important, or more important, as the financial aid office in receiving aid. Talk to the department head to negotiate a financial aid package that works for you. "As a graduate student, you're more valuable to the university," Lawton says, "You have room to ask 'I can do [research] for you, what can you do for me?'" Students in professional programs, like law and business, are less likely to receive funding than students in academic programs, like the sciences and religion, but are more likely to get paid internships. Grants and Fellowships
Graduate grants and fellowships are not as numerous as undergraduate awards, so start your search early. Your best bet for funding is at the departmental level. Talk to as many people in the department as possible. Fill out your FAFSA to be considered for federal aid. Financial aid is available through private fellowship sponsors as well.