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If you’re thinking of going to graduate school, you’re making a significant investment in your career and your future. According to Peterson’s, those with a graduate school degree make $40,000 more a year than their peers with just a bachelor’s degree. Over the course of your career, that can mean you’ll make hundreds of thousands more than you would without your graduate degree.

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  1. Scholarships and grants
  2. Federal work-study programs
  3. Take out federal student loans
  4. Take out private student loans

While the payoff can be significant, graduate school can be prohibitively expensive for many. However, you shouldn’t let the cost deter you if you’re focused on going to law school, business school, medical school, pursuing your master’s of arts, or taking part in other graduate programs.

Here are four different ways to pay for graduate school and get your master’s degree that can make the expense more manageable.

1. Start with free money

When it comes to paying for grad school, you should start with “free money” — that is, money that you don’t have to repay later on. Here are some forms of free money that you don’t have to pay them back after you graduate from school:

  • Grants: Grants are usually based on your financial need, rather than your academic merit. Schools, professional associations, and private organizations often offer grants directly to grad students.
  • Scholarships: Scholarships tend to be based on merit. If you have a high GPA and test scores, you might be able to qualify for assistance.
  • Fellowships: Like scholarships, fellowships are typically merit-based. In return for your work, you’ll get a stipend to cover some of your graduate education costs.
  • Assistantships: If you’re willing to spend some time as a teaching assistant and helping professors, you may qualify for a research-based or teaching-based assistantship, where you get a stipend to pay the cost of tuition in return for your help in the classroom or with the professor’s research.
  • Employer help: If you currently have a job while in school, ask if they have a program in place to help with education expenses. If they don’t, it also never hurts to ask your employer for help with paying for your degree. But make sure to do your research first and make a case for how the degree will benefit your employer. In return, your employer may ask that you commit to working with them for a period of time, and if you don’t they may require that you pay the money back.

To find out what free aid you’re eligible for, contact your school’s financial aid office. You can also apply for grants and scholarships for graduate school via FastWeb and GoGrad.

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2. Utilize a federal work-study program

A commonly overlooked way to pay for grad school is to utilize the federal work-study program. Available to a professional degree and graduate students, the program gives you a part-time job, which you can use to pay for your education and living expenses.

Whenever possible, the jobs will relate to your field of study. You’ll typically work for the school, a local non-profit organization, or public agency. It’s a great way to pay for school while gaining experience and bolstering your resume.

You’ll earn at least minimum wage, though some fields pay much more, depending on the type of work you do and the skills required for the job.

By combining work-study with other forms of financial aid, such as grants or scholarships, you can minimize how much money you need to borrow to pay for graduate school.

Check with your school financial aid office to see if a federal work-study program is available.

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3. Take out federal student loans

To pay for grad school, it makes sense to use all the free aid you can get first before turning to student loans, which have to be repaid with interest. But if you have to borrow money, federal student loans are a good place to start.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

  • Eligibility: You must be a professional degree or graduate student enrolled at least half-time.
  • Borrowing limits: You can borrow up to $20,500 per year, up to $138,500 for graduate school. There is no credit check required.
  • Interest rate: Unsubsidized Loans for graduate school have an interest rate of 6.6%.

Direct PLUS Loans

  • Eligibility: As a graduate or professional degree student enrolled at least half-time, you’re eligible for Direct PLUS Loans. Unlike other forms of federal student loans, Direct PLUS Loans do require that you don’t have an adverse credit history, or you may need to have a guarantor on the loan. A guarantor is someone with excellent credit and stable income who guarantees the loan if you fall behind.
  • Borrowing limits: You can borrow up to the total cost of attendance at your selected school, minus the amount of other financial aid — such as scholarships or grants — that you’ve received.
  • Interest rate: Loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2018, but before July 1, 2019, have an interest rate of 7.6%.

To qualify for federal Unsubsidized Loans or Direct PLUS Loans, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you’re eligible for a loan, you’ll have to fill out a Master Promissory Note agreeing to the terms of the loan. If you haven’t taken out a PLUS Loan before, you’ll also have to complete entrance counseling.

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4. Consider private student loans

If you’ve exhausted other forms of aid and still need help paying for school, private student loans can help you complete your degree. In some cases, you may even be able to qualify for a lower interest rate than you’d get with a federal loan.

Unlike federal loans, which are offered by the federal government, private student loans are distributed by banks and financial institutions. Federal loans’ interest rates and repayment terms are determined by Congress; private loan terms vary by lender.

Federal loan interest rates are typically fixed, meaning they stay the same for the length of your repayment. Private loans work differently. When you take out your loan, you can typically choose between fixed and variable rate loans. A variable rate loan usually starts out with a lower interest rate, but it can fluctuate over time.

Some private lenders offer different repayment options that make your loans more manageable. For example, you could defer loan payments until you’re out of school, or only make payments on the interest that accrues.

If you decide to take out a private student loan to pay for graduate school, make sure you compare rates from multiple lenders first to ensure you get the best rate.

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Minimize the debt you need to take on for grad school

Although graduate school can be expensive, your advanced degree will be worthwhile after you graduate, helping you earn thousands more than if you only had a bachelor’s degree. By doing your research and exploring your options, you can minimize how much debt you need to take on to achieve your degree.

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