Prospective graduate students often feel overwhelmed by the process of applying to graduate school, and finding ways to lessen the financial burden can be stressful, leaving many opting to fund their program with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans . This comprehensive resource center highlights a multitude of financial aid opportunities available to graduate students. Explore multiple guides to learn about various funding opportunities including ideas for crowdfunding and frugal living, expert insight on crafting a strong essay, hundreds of scholarships, and tips for completing a degree on a budget.
WHAT TYPE OF GRADUATE FINANCIAL AID IS BEST FOR YOU?
Today’s students have access to a wide spectrum of funding options, some of which will suit their individual needs better than others. While some degree paths are heavily focused on fellowship and research grant opportunities, others may offer employer assisted tuition programs or military benefits. Similarly, funding options for students at the masters versus doctorate levels may also vary.
Determine what financial aid options may best suit your needs in the guide options below.
During the most recent academic year, public and private master’s degrees averaged $26,288 and $61,104, respectively. As the rising cost of education outpaces economic growth, many students are realizing their dreams of further education will only be possible if alternate methods of funding can be secured.
GRADUATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIP DATABASE
Finding funding, while time consuming, doesn’t have to be an arduous or disheartening process. Though top scholarship and fellowship programs are highly competitive, innumerable options are available for students of all different backgrounds and interests.
For students who are able to blend a mix of personal funds, scholarships and grants to avoid significant amounts of debt, graduate school is a significant step toward growing their careers.
A 2013 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that individuals with a master’s degree earned 23 percent more than their bachelor’s level peers. Aside from long-term earning potential, a postgraduate degree also opens doors to expanded career options, advanced skill sets, and teaching or research positions.
Aside from general and degree-specific scholarships, countless specialized grants are available to students of varied backgrounds and interests. The following databases have been compiled to help students find a scholarship created with them in mind.
FINANCING YOUR FUTURE: STUDENT LOANS
Students typically pursue a blend of funding options, incorporating scholarships and grants alongside any necessary loans. The following section will review loan options and provide helpful tips on how to navigate common steps, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
While private loans are available, the vast majority of student financial aid experts strongly recommend taking full advantage of federal loans before considering those offered by lending agencies and banks. This is due in part to lower and more stable interest rates, but also because private loans generally don’t offer the same flexible repayment plans as federal lenders.
To qualify for federal loans, all students – regardless of their educational level – must fill out the FAFSA® every year they are enrolled in a degree program. This document, which is based on either the student’s or their parent’s financial information, assesses income levels to predict the amount of funding available via federal grants and loans.
Students who used federal funds during baccalaureate studies will be familiar with the process, although there are a few different options available for advanced degrees. Some of the most common questions associated with completing the FAFSA® and taking on student loans include:
Funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at the first of the new year. Students should aim to have all documents ready so they can apply as soon as the new calendar year starts.
If a student is applying as a dependent, they’ll need their parent’s financial records. As an independent, they’ll need their own financial documents along with their social security and driver’s license numbers, investment records, bank statements, federal tax records, documentation of untaxed income, and their federal student aid PIN number provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
Each of the main federal student loans have different lending amounts; for instance, the Perkins loan allows graduate students to borrow up to $8,500 per year, while the maximum amount for the Stafford loan is based on the current year of education.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of going back to school and not fully consider the implications of taking on debt. While some loan repayment plans begin while students are still in school, the majority will start once a student has graduated. Students should be considering their next moves – be they further education or entering the workforce – before completing their degree. Students who pay toward their loans faithfully each month can use this time to help build good credit for future significant purchases, but those who fall behind may find themselves penalized when it comes time to purchase their first house or make other big buys.
Students should ensure they understand all of the terms and conditions before signing the dotted line for any loan. While the goal will always be to land a top job immediately after graduation, understanding options for deferment, forbearance, loan forgiveness, and alternate repayment plans can help alleviate a lot of anxiety and avoid negative credit scores if it takes a while to start repaying student debt.
Students who did not take advantage of federal funds during their undergraduate degree will also need to complete an entrance loan counseling session and sign the complete master promissory note before funds are disbursed.
When used knowledgeably, federal student loans can be a helpful addition to a student’s funding bundle. Aside from making the difference in whether or not a student is able to complete graduate school, they also remove many of the pressures of private loans. Our Student Loan and Graduate School guide provides details on these topics and more to consider when plotting out graduate school funds.
ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO PAY FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL
Aside from traditional funding routes such as scholarships or loans, today’s students can utilize numerous innovative methods of paying for their graduate degrees. The Alternate Ways to Pay for Grad School guide highlights inventive ways to lessen the financial burden, including crowdfunding, employer tuition assistance programs, teaching or research assistantships, and general ideas about frugal living while in school.
These thrifty tips give students a weeklong glimpse of some cost cutting ideas.
Gasoline is cheapest on Sunday, so scheduling a fuel up for this day will save a few pennies per gallon. Lots of electronics stores will also have special flash sales on Sunday, so a trip to the local Best Buy may be in order for students in need of a tablet, laptop or other study aid.
Students who enjoy doing a lot of their shopping online can take advantage of the best sales on this day, ranging from clothing and electronics to textbooks and household items. Some websites will also allow users to sign up for notifications when new items go on sale.
Research has shown the best day for booking a flight is Tuesday, while they tend to be marked up on weekends. The day is also perfect for eating out, with the largest number of happy hours and meal deals being offered on the second day of the workweek.
Daily Finance found that hump day is the best for weekly grocery shopping. Not only do more than half of all stores start their sales on this day, they’ll often honor the previous week’s sales as well. As a bonus, if meat counters, bakeries, or prepared food counters have food nearing the end of its shelf life, this is the most common day for scoring a bargain.
Thinking about buying new clothes? Research has shown that a lot of shops and department stores mark down items on Wednesday evenings, making Thursday the perfect day to snag a good deal before items get picked over.
While the majority of yard and garage sales take place on weekends, sometimes sellers will have a preview or early bird sale on Friday. Students with nontraditional schedules that can take advantage of being one of the first on the scene can often find excellent bargains on items that typically get scooped up quickly.
Although many assume that retailers aren’t shy about charging full prices over the weekend, there are still plenty of bargains buys to be found. Clothing stores in particular are known to have some of the best sales on this day of the week.
Lots of resale shops and thrift stores will have sales based on items with same colored tag all being discounted on different days of the week.
These helpful hints are only the tip of the iceberg; further ideas for saving money while not feeling deprived can be found in the Alternate Ways to Pay for Grad School guide.
Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.Billionaire mogul Richard Branson
GET YOUR COMPANY TO FUND GRADUATE SCHOOL
One guiding principle many business leaders believe is that employers should help fund graduate programs — it can impart a sense of gratitude in employees and provides a more skilled workforce to companies. Numerous national organizations have tuition assistance programs in place already, but it’s always worth asking your current employers if an agreement could be made.
In many cases, companies will supplement educational costs in return for a commitment to stay with the organization for a set number of years after a degree is completed.
These are some of the best companies offering tuition reimbursement programs in the U.S. today:
Bank of America
PROGRAM: Tuition Reimbursement
BOA provides tuition assistance for employees seeking to complete graduate level classes, provided they are in some way related to their area of work.
PROGRAM: Graduate School Assistance Program
Deloitte offers its employees generous benefits, allowing them to attend graduate school and move into Senior Consultant roles upon graduation. After two years of post-college employment, workers receive full tuition reimbursement. They are also given a technology stipend during their education to help purchase necessary computer-related items.
PROGRAM: Educational Assistance Program
Employees completing approved classes and programs relevant to their positions at Raytheon can apply for their educational assistance program, provided they are employed full-time.
PROGRAM: Tuition Reimbursement Program
In addition to other great benefits, Google employees who maintain A’s and B’s through their educations qualify for the company’s tuition reimbursement program.
PROGRAM: Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
UPS has invested close to $200 million in educational programs for its employees since 2009, offering assistance to both part and full-time workers.
PROGRAM: Educational Assistance
Employees of BP can take advantage of the company’s generous tuition assistance program, provided they’re enrolled in courses relevant to their area of work and achieve passing grades.
PROGRAM: Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
Microsoft is known for placing great importance on furthering the knowledge and skill sets of its employees, and the company provides assistance for both tuition and textbook costs.
J.M. Smucker Company
PROGRAM: Financial Well Being Program
Smucker’s takes great pride in providing holistic care for their employees, and this includes a generous reimbursement program providing up to 100 percent of the costs for all approved coursework.
PROGRAM: Career Development and Training
Chevron takes a wide lens view when it comes to employees reaching their potential and continuing their educations. In addition to tuition reimbursement, the company also offers internal training, mentoring programs, and opportunities for professional development.
PROGRAM: College Achievement Plan (CAP)
70 percent of Starbucks employees are students or aspire to attend college, and the organization is focused on making that possible. The company recently partnered with Arizona State University to provide assistance to part and full-time employees undertaking online education.
To learn about additional companies providing tuition benefits, or to find tips on convincing your boss to provide educational assistance, check out the guide, Expert Guidance and Strategies for Company Tuition Reimbursement.
WHAT DOES A PHD COST?
The actual costs associated with obtaining a PhD can vary wildly based on the subject area, type of school, and institutional assistance available. The following section helps interested doctoral candidates learn about all the costs associated with working toward an education at this level.
Students have innumerable reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree, ranging from higher salaries to career requirements. In many academic or STEM-related fields, individuals may not be able to fully participate in their field without obtaining the highest level of degree available. Yet PhD programs can also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving cash-strapped students wondering if it’s practical to complete another degree.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Before enrolling in a program, students should have a thorough understanding of all the costs associated with committing to a further degree.
The cost of a PhD can vary significantly depending on whether the institution is public or private, and which degree path the student intends on pursuing. For in-state students at state colleges, tuition is typically between $7,000 to $10,000 annually, while students at private universities can expect to pay between $30,000 to $50,000 each year.
The cost of rent represents a wide spectrum across the U.S. Birmingham topped the 2015 list for affordable cities, averaging $949 for a two bedroom. Conversely, a two bedroom in San Francisco, the most costly city for renters, tops out at $3,650 per month.
Cost of living
According to a living wage calculator provided by MIT, single adult students will spend just over $1,000 per month on average for living costs, including food, medical coverage, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. These numbers are also likely to fluctuate based on their location
Books and fees
Costs for books and additional fees are often wholly based on a student’s degree. While science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related paths tend to have more intensive fees for laboratory use and materials, humanities courses may require substantially more books. On average, books and fees combined cost between $1,500 and $3,000 per academic year.
Research for doctoral level dissertations or projects is typically extensive, requiring students to spend hundreds of hours poring over materials. Depending on the area of study, this could either mean being able to access materials via a short car ride or spending several months in a foreign country. While these expenditures can quickly add up, scholarships and grants specifically covering research and conference travel costs abound.
Aside from all the costs reviewed above, students should always plan to have funds on hand for unforeseen purchases. Whether it’s an unexpected trip to the mechanic, stocking up on winter clothes, or an emergency trip home, students should plan to spend approximately $3,000 to $5,000 per year on miscellaneous expenses.
After reading through all of the costs associated with undertaking a doctoral degree, interested students may be wondering how on earth they’ll ever be able to justify taking this next step. GoGrad’s Paying for Your PhD guide is here to answer this question and any others arising.
10 ADVANTAGES TO PURSUING AN ADVANCED DEGREE
Obtaining a doctoral degree has innumerable benefits for individuals in many different industries and areas of work.
While some fields – such as psychology or astrophysics – require professionals to hold a PhD to be fully certified, professionals in other areas often undertake this degree to move into specialized research or teaching roles. For mid-career workers who already hold a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree can help propel them into a senior-level role in their new industry.
Looking for more benefits? Keep reading.
Obtaining a master degree is an investment that pays off throughout your career. As reported by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a master’s degree will net individuals a paycheck that’s 23 percent higher than their baccalaureate-holding colleagues, while those with a doctoral degree earned up to 52 percent more.
Whether deciding to pursue a professorship after years of experience in the field or moving directly into teaching, the vast majority of four-year universities require faculty to hold a PhD to teach courses.
While some may think of in-depth research opportunities being relegated to STEM-related industries, the spread of digital technology is continually increasing the importance of both data gathering and data analysis. Individuals able to delve into research projects and glean useful insights are valuable to almost any industry.
Consultants to government agencies, non-profit organizations and corporate businesses display the highest levels of expertise and knowledge, gleaned from both years of experience and an advanced education.
Students who pursue graduate degrees typically all have one thing in common: they love their subject. While undergraduate degrees offer excellent foundational knowledge and skills, advanced degrees allow students to truly immerse themselves and gain a holistic understanding of the discipline.
As of 2014, less than one percent of the American population held a PhD and only eight percent had completed master’s level programs. Advanced degrees and those who complete them are highly respected due to the sheer fact that pursuing academics at this level requires commitment and intelligence.
Advanced degree holders recognized as leaders in their fields often have many opportunities to travel, be it for research collaboration, guest lectures or speaking at/attending conferences held by professional organizations.
Individuals with advanced degrees are typically those who innovate, push the boundaries of what’s possible, and lead groundbreaking research that changes the way people live their lives. Whether working in the arts and sciences, technology, medicine or law, master’s and PhD level professionals are constantly shifting the way the world works.
Although highly competitive, numerous fellowship and grant opportunities not only pay all costs associated with an advance degree, in some cases they also provide a living stipend. Instead of worrying about housing expenses or other general costs of living, recipients of these awards are able to devote their full attention to learning.
While some jobs may be quite rigid in their structure, advanced degree holders often have more autonomy to structure their work days and projects. They may decide to split their time between offices, complete projects while traveling, or outsource basic tasks to focus on more specialized work.