Whether you’re a current graduate student, a prospective graduate student or the parent of a current or future graduate student, paying for graduate school can weigh heavily on your mind. How much your degree costs depends on multiple factors and, on average, can fall anywhere between $22,000 and $120,000.
If you’re wondering how to pay for graduate school, read on for some tried-and-tested tips, as well as some outside-the-box suggestions for earning your way.
Traditional Ways of Paying for Graduate School: Grants, Fellowships and Loans
Graduate School Scholarships and Grants
The best way to pay for graduate school is with any money you don’t have to pay back. That includes award money like scholarships and grants. Grants tend to be need-based while scholarships can be either need- or merit-based.
This is one case where specialty matters, since many scholarships and grants, are field-specific. Scholarships for graduate school are less common than those for undergraduate school, but high-need fields like teaching and nursing tend to be more plentiful.
Examples of institutions which offer scholarships for grad school include the Fulbright Program, the National Science Foundation, National Political Science Honor Society and the Emergency Nurses Association.
Many scholarships which are available to undergraduate students are also available to graduate students, so conducting a scholarship search is wise if you’re trying to figure out how to pay for graduate school.
Your school’s department heads in your field of study can also be of use in finding sources of scholarship and grant funding.
Fellowships and Assistantships
If your graduate degree is in a high-need field of studies like nursing or teaching, chances are you’ll be eligible for a fellowship or assistantship program.
Fellowships and assistantships, unlike grants and scholarships, are usually merit-based. That means that if you finished your undergraduate program with a high GPA, you might qualify for a fellowship.
There are two different types of assistantship programs for graduate students: research-based (RA) and teaching-based (TA). Both types can grant free tuition, as well as a possible stipend for living costs like rent and food. In exchange, graduate students usually work part-time either assisting with research or taking on a teaching role.
To find out more about your school’s assistantship and fellowship programs, visit the school’s website or speak to your department head.
Student Loans for Graduate School
Student loans should always be your second choice compared to funds that you don’t have to pay back, such as scholarships, fellowships, and private job earnings. However, with an average price tag of over $160,000 for some fields of study and average debt of $287,331 for some fields, like dental school, most graduate students will have to borrow money at some point.
As with undergraduate school, graduate school loans come in two primary forms: private and federal.
Stafford Loans for Graduate School
Stafford loans—or federal student loans—allow students to borrow $20,500 per year, with a total (aggregate) limit of $138,500. This limit includes any Stafford loan amount that you borrowed as an undergraduate.
Graduate PLUS Loans
A Graduate PLUS loan is a type of loan you didn’t have access to as an undergraduate. They are only available to graduate students and to parents of dependent undergraduate students (Parent PLUS Loans). Unlike Stafford loans, PLUS loans don’t have an aggregate or total limit. Instead, you can borrow up to the cost of attendance as it is determined by your school.
Private Student Loans
Loans for graduate school can also be issued by banks, credit unions, and other financial service companies. Unlike federal loans—Stafford and PLUS—which have a fixed interest rate, private lenders offer both fixed and variable interest rates. You may also have to begin repayment while still in school. However, if you have good credit, private student loans can allow you to borrow more than federal loans and may have better interest rates, too.
The best way to pay for graduate school may be a combination of loans, grants, and other sources. To apply for student loans, you need to fill out your FAFSA for every year you will attend graduate school.
Other Ways to Pay for Graduate School
Scholarships and grants, fellowships and assistantships, and student loans are some of the most common ways of paying for graduate school. However, the price tag of a graduate degree program often warrants sourcing funds in other ways.
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to avoid methods of paying for graduate school that will result in paying large amounts of interest (i.e. student loans) and rely instead on methods that don’t require repayment or at least don’t require paying interest or a strict repayment schedule. The following are some of the best ways to pay for graduate school that many overlook.
Family Loans and Resources
You may be hesitant to ask family members for help paying for graduate school. After all, you may have gotten some help from your parents or others to pay for your undergraduate degree program.
But asking for money doesn’t mean asking for a hand-out. You can work out loan terms with family members that relieve you of high-interest rates and/or a strict repayment schedule while still ensuring they get their money back.
Borrowing money from a family member will allow the two of you to establish terms that work for the both of you. For example, the family member may either pay your tuition cost with a check to the school or may write a check to you directly. Your family member may want to set a repayment schedule, or they may be OK with you’re paying in larger amounts as you become more financially solvent
If you have savings, graduate school is a good time to put those funds to use. However, if you’re planning to pay a portion of your graduate school expenses with your own savings, make sure you create a budget that ensures you’ll have enough to last.
When you budget for each year of graduate school, be sure to include all of your monthly expenses like rent, phone bill, transportation costs, etc.
If you have significant savings that you plan to put towards your graduate degree, you could benefit from speaking to a financial advisor who can help you budget more effectively.
One of the benefits (or detriments) of graduate school is that you won’t need much other than your computer, room and board, books and other supplies for school.
If you have a car, for example, that you hardly ever use because you live on or near campus, paying for graduate school may be a good reason to sell it and buy a bike, instead.
Similarly, if you have an entire storage unit’s worth of items at your parents’ house, now may be a good time to hold a yard sale or start listing on eBay.
Working While in Graduate School
One of the barriers to paying for graduate school is the limited amount of spare time you’ll likely have available for a job. If you worked your way through undergraduate school, transitioning into graduate school may leave you feeling short on time. We made a list of the top jobs for college students. These jobs should allow you to work and study without sacrificing too much of the study.
Rather than taking a traditional part-time job that has specific time requirements and a set hourly rate, many graduate students choose to seek outside gigs that they can do on their own time.
Side Gigs for Graduate Students
If you’re in graduate school, you likely have skills that others would find useful. If you’re good at something like writing, photography, video editing, or anything else you can do remotely, you can pay some of your graduate school expenses with freelancing.
To begin freelancing, you’ll need to first home in on what your unique talent is, and then find clients. The following sites can get you started:
You may also consider posting an ad on Craigslist or on a physical community board at your school and elsewhere.
Driving and Delivery
Today’s job market has been greatly changed by the “gig economy” which largely started with driving and delivery services. If you need to earn some money on the side during graduate school, the following companies may be worth considering:
Cleaning, Sitting and Manual Work Gigs
If working with people face-to-face is more your style, you may be able to market your services as a cleaning person, nanny or pet-sitter, landscaper, mover, etc.
One of the best ways to get your name out there is by talking to people in person. If you’re on a college campus, you already have great access to a community of people who might need help or know someone who needs help.
Graduate students are always in demand when it comes to tutoring. Whether you’re a math expert or an English major, you can choose to tutor other college students or specialize in high school-aged students or younger.
Again, advertising your services in person can go a long way, but there are also great online platforms to help you get the word out. You may even be interested in remote tutoring with one of these sites if you don’t have access to a vehicle or you don’t have the time to travel.
Blogging and Social Media
A new type of gig income that wasn’t always available to graduate students is income from social media and blogging.
If you’re internet-savvy and have something to share with the world, you might be able to make a side income online from ad revenue or sponsors.
Whether you’re an entertaining writer and have a particular interest that you’d like to share with others, or you love making videos and posting them for the world to see, social media can be a great way to make money in your spare time when done right.
Building an online following can take time, but if you love posting videos or articles and sharing content with others, you might be rewarded for your time and passion.
To get started, decide on one or media to focus on—if you’re talented in writing, focus on writing blog posts; if you’re better at video and photography, focus on Instagram and YouTube videos.
- Blogging: You may choose to start your own blog using a site-builder like SquareSpace or Wix. Alternatively, you can start out with a blog site like WordPress, HubPages or Medium. You’ll then need to set up Google AdSense or create sponsored and affiliate posts to earn income via your blog.
- Social Media: Earning money from social media like YouTube and Instagram can be more esoteric. If you build up enough of a following on YouTube, you can earn money from ad space on your videos and from sponsors. Other platforms will require you to rely more heavily on sponsors.
Crafting and Online Selling
If you have a skill for crafting or collecting, and you know how to promote your skills, you can make a side income by selling your wares.
Create an account on Etsy.com to get started and to design your own online shop. If you have spare time between classes and study to create or source your unique goods—whether it’s feather earrings, hand-knit sweaters, and scarves or midcentury modern décor—you may be able to establish a reliable side-income.
What’s the Best Way to Pay for Graduate School?
Graduate school is a time when you should be looking to and preparing for the future; but it’s also a time when you’ll be facing head-on the realities of the present—namely, paying for tuition and everyday costs of living.
Whether you score an amazing research fellowship that takes care of your expenses in one fell swoop, or you have to go with a more patchwork approach of scholarships, loans, and side gigs the best way to pay for graduate school is based on your particular circumstances.
The best way to start if you’re wondering how to pay for graduate school is to begin your research and planning early. Speak to helpful parties including family members, financial aid departments and your school’s department heads in your field of study. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and ask for help as needed. If you are unsure of whether or not you should even attend graduate school, we have a guide to help you make that determination.