Living on a shoestring budget and eating Ramen noodles for dinner may have been acceptable as an undergrad student. However, many grad students have higher debt than undergraduates, and perhaps even a mortgage to pay or a family to support. The good news is that you can get financial aid for grad school to help you pay your tuition and living expenses while you earn a graduate degree.
1. Complete the FAFSA every year.
Financial aid is probably at the front of your mind when you are first applying to grad school, but you actually need to pay attention to it each year. Fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, every year to reapply for financial aid from the federal government.
2. Ask about working as a teaching assistant or research assistant.
Professors in graduate school often need help teaching their courses and conducting research, and they have a budget to pay for this help. If you don’t have a job outside of grad school, look into working on campus.
3. Look for outside scholarships.
The best type of financial aid comes in the form of scholarships and grants, and you may have to look outside your grad school to find these. Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and Peterson’s all offer scholarship listings with advanced search tools.
4. Ask your employer about tuition benefits.
Many grad students hold down a job while they are attending school. Employers often help cover the cost of one or more classes each semester if you are pursuing a degree that will help you advance in your career with them.
5. Don’t be afraid to take out student loans.
Much of the financial aid available to grad school students is in the form of loans. In particular, the federal government offers PLUS loans that can cover the full cost of graduate school. If you are planning to work in public service after graduating, you might even qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years of payments.
Financial aid programs can help defray the cost of grad school, and loans can take care of any remaining need. While you might not be able to afford a new luxury car or dream vacation while you’re in grad school, you will be able to pay your bills while you increase your future earning potential!