Going to graduate school is an exciting, yet costly, endeavor. But, like it or not, many of the best jobs today require some sort of advanced degree.
In this article we’ll discuss the best loans, grants, and other alternatives to pay for your continuing education.
Before you consider going to graduate school, you’ll need to decide if an advanced degree will be worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars you might be spending to get it. Graduate school isn’t the same as undergrad when it comes to financing—you won’t be reliant on your parents’ income to fill out financial forms.
So how do you do a cost-benefit analysis (CBA)? First you’ll want to understand how much your degree will cost.
In general (it varies from school to school) a medical degree costs around $200,000 at a private institution and $128,000 at a public university, a law degree costs around $45,000 per year based on a study of the top 20 schools, and an MBA, on average for a top school, costs $150,000.
As you can see, grad school costs a LOT. If you don’t get a high paying job after an additional four years of school, you’ll be in debt for a very long time. Luckily, these three degrees tend to lead to very high paying jobs. Although some people will disagree with that when it comes to lawyers and business men/women.
To get a specific idea for your school: add up all your degree costs (including tuition), transportation, family expenses, food, course materials, rent, health insurance, certification costs, loan interest repayments, and any other recurring payments.
Then subtract the money you’ll get from grants, fellowships, work study, etc. And finally, take this number and compare it to your potential future earnings. This will give you an idea of how much debt you’ll be in and how long it’ll take you to pay it off.
Obviously, some professions require a degree (think doctor or lawyer), so the only control you’ll have over cost is by the school you decide to attend.
Related: Is Graduate School Worth The Cost?
Start with Federal, State, and University aid
If you thought the FAFSA was only for your undergraduate education, think again. Filling out the FAFSA should be your first step in attaining aid for graduate school.
Luckily (or not so lucky depending on how you look at it), you’re most likely considered an independent student (unless you go to grad school right out of undergrad). This means you won’t have to go to the trouble of filling out your parents’ financial information…just your own.
When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll be eligible for a few types of loans: Unsubsidized Stafford Loans and Grad PLUS Loans are the most common.
With a Stafford loan, you can borrow $20,500 per year of Stafford loans with an aggregate limit of $138,500, which includes any Stafford loans that you borrowed as an undergraduate. These loans have a fixed interest rate set by the federal government.
Grad PLUS loans are a little different than Stafford loans. There’s no real limit to how much you can borrow—just up to the cost of your school’s attendance. With that being said, you’ll need a good credit score to qualify. After you fill out the FAFSA, you can go to StudentLoan.gov to apply for the PLUS loan.
In addition, you’ll want to check into funding through the state and university you’ll be attending graduate school in. Your school’s financial aid page should lead you to all the information you need, plus each school will have a financial aid counselor, just like at your undergrad university.
Look into private loans
Although federal loans are frequently easier to come by, private loans come with lower interest rates. But you should be aware that you’ll likely have to start repaying private loans while you’re still in school.
Sofi and Earnest are two of our picks for private student loans. They offer private loan options for those with decent credit. Both offer fixed or variable rates that can help you pay off your loans quicker.
You can also refinance past loans at a lower interest rate and pay off your loans from your undergraduate education sooner.
How to compare loans
You can look at rates for new loans or if you’re looking to refinance. You’ll enter your basic information and your school’s info and you’ll see your rates all in one place.
Related: Read Our Credible Review.
Plus, Money Under 30 readers who refinance their student loans with Credible can get a $100 bonus!
Grants can offer your “free money”
Grants are, to some extent, “free money” towards your graduate education. But you should never count on these. They’re highly competitive, especially if you enter a popular field such as law or medicine.
There are also grants based on degree type and minority status. Peterson’s is a scholarship finding site helps you find any grants you qualify for (both for undergraduate and graduate school.
Other ways to pay for grad school
Loans are always an option for graduate school, but if you can get money you don’t have to pay back at a high interest rate, that’s always the option you’ll want to take—whether that’s through work study, your employers, or even credit unions.
The most ideal graduate school situation is finding an employer who will pay for some or all of your degree.
Chances are you’ll need to work for a bigger, corporate company to get this benefit, but there are employers out there who are willing to pay, especially if it benefits them. Or, at the very least, they’ll work with refinancing companies to get you an even lower rate if you choose to refinance.
With lower (or no) fees, a community feel, and better service, more and more people are turning to credit unions for their banking needs—including their student loans.
If you’ve exhausted all your other options and need a private student loan, credit unions can offer those with high credit scores and good grads a good deal.
Work for your school
Every college will offer some work-study program for those with intense financial need. If you’re working towards a masters in teaching, you can student teach, if you’re looking to get a medical degree you can work in a lab, if you’re looking to become a lawyer you can work for a law firm while in school, etc.
Most of these programs allow you to get paid directly, or you can pay it straight towards your tuition. Check with your college’s financial aid page for more information.
Consider an online degree
There are certain advanced degrees where it might make sense to consider enrolling in an online institution. It’s cheaper, more flexible, and you’ll still get the knowledge you need. What online degrees cut out most is living costs—which make up more of your college experience than you probably realize. Dorm life is extremely expensive. You can also usually cut the cost per-course nearly in half when you take online vs. in-person classes.
But be warned, online degrees still cost a decent amount of money. Luckily, most employers don’t question or care if you got your degree online. When you consider how many students enrolled in traditional universities, also take a handful of online courses, there isn’t always a huge difference educationally between the two types of educations.
Funding graduate school isn’t a fun endeavor, but there are many ways to do it. Filling out the FAFSA is your first step and will help you figure out what kind of federal aid you qualify for. If that doesn’t cover your expenses, you can turn to private loans and grants.