This is the looming question that most graduate students ask when considering grad school. The range of program costs and financial aid options are as varied as the programs themselves, so it’s imperative that you do your research.
What costs to expect
The average cost of graduate schools is around $13k per year for public institutions and just under $26k per year for private institutions. * It’s not surprising that many graduate students can come away with a $100k debt along with their degree. That cost also varies depending on the type of degree you obtain. For example, an MBA may cost more than an MFA.
If paying out of pocket isn’t an option, as is the case for most students, it’s important to understand what your financing options are to determine your school and program options. There are two types of loan options — federal student aid and private loans — along with grant, scholarship, stipend and work-study options.
Federal student aid
You may remember the FAFSA application for financial aid from undergrad. However, it applies to graduate students as well, and it’s worth filling out again to see if you qualify for any funding.
William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program
The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is the largest federal student loan program. It is distributed by the Department of Education rather than a bank or other financial institution. Within this program are Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct Plus Loans.
Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant is for postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs and does not have to be repaid.
If you’ve exhausted the Federal Student Aid options, borrowing money from a private financial institution, such as a bank or financial company, may be your next option — but make sure you do your homework.
It’s important to understand what the rates will be and what the repayment plan is. Many private loans require payments to start immediately, while others have an option to start repaying after you graduate. Make sure you read the terms and conditions of any loan before you sign anything. It’s important to make sure that whatever you borrow is something you’ll be able to afford to pay back once you’re in the workforce.
Other financial aid options
Scholarships, grants and other free money and the individual state you live in may provide other sources of financial aid that will ease the burden of paying for grad school.
There are thousands of scholarships and navigating through them can be a daunting task, especially when you’re also trying to apply to schools. Determining eligibility may take some research, as there are general scholarships and very detailed ones based on your demographic or background.
Luckily, there are many resources to help you narrow down the search. The Department of Labor’s website is a good place to start. Additional resources include your employer, church, community organizations such as Rotary Club and the individual programs you’re considering.
Stipends and fellowships
Ph.D. programs often offer stipends or fellowships to students. This can cover a significant portion of the tuition and fees associated with the program. Many graduate programs also have work-study opportunities that can offset tuition.
* National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_330.50.asp