How to Make Graduate School Affordable

Your education is the biggest investment you’ll make for yourself aside from purchasing a home. Two factors weigh heavily when deciding to go to grad school: time and money. Time is something you need to determine yourself based on your work-life situation. Money is a whole different story. In this article we discuss ways of easing your financial burden.

Tuition rates

College tuitions have increased1 at a rate of about 16–18% over the past decade for public and private universities, and 32% (private four-year universities) and 72% (public four-year universities) the previous decade. The current average cost of tuition for a public university is $10,560. For a private university, it’s $37,650.

Part of the reason that tuition rates have risen so much is because higher education funding has been cut in many states. This is unfortunately putting higher ed attendance out of reach for some students, especially those in the low-income bracket.

One thing to consider when examining the cost of grad school is what kind of debt you can afford to take on, as well as what kind of salary you can expect with a completed graduate degree. Accruing a six-figure school loan for a less than a six-figure salary isn’t necessarily a wise financial decision. Financial aid, grants and scholarships must also be taken into consideration when calculating what you’ll actually spend on your advanced degree.

So, what can you do?

Here are some ways that you can realistically manage the high price of graduate school:

  • Make cost a priority when looking for programs. This will be an important part of your graduate school decision matrix. You can also look up tuition costs as you research programs of interest. Don’t base the quality of the program on the cost alone.
  • Explore scholarship, grant and financial aid options. These are valuable resources to help offset the financial responsibility of tuition without having to pay them back.
  • If you’re already in the workforce and want a graduate degree to boost your career, start saving. The more you can pay without the help of loans the better. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore any and all scholarship, grant and financial aid options to reduce that gross amount. This may be more difficult if you are seeking a graduate degree immediately after undergrad, but any little bit helps alleviate that bottom-line cost.
  • If you have limited financial aid options, or will be relying solely on private loans, consider public institutions over private. The tuition of most public institutions is significantly less2 than private, and there are many high-quality programs offered at public universities. However, if a private institution is on your wish list, speak with them about any in-house financial aid options such as work-study programs and stipends.
  • Find out if your workplace contributes to continuing education. Many businesses will assist with higher education costs through reimbursement. There’s usually a time commitment you must make to remain working at that business once you graduate, but it’s well worth it if it saves you from accruing loans in the long term.
  • Many institutions grant waivers and tuition assistance for military personnel or those who served in the Peace Corps. Check with your individual program advisor if you think you qualify for this perk.
  • If you do have to take out loans, research loan forgiveness opportunities. They may direct you toward a certain career path such as working for the government or in public service.

There are many ways to reduce the bottom-line amount of tuition for grad school that you’ll ultimately be responsible for. As part of your research and decision-making process, it’s important communicate directly with admissions advisors to see what options that program offers in the way of financial relief.

1 Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020:

2 National Center for Education Statistics: