Affording Grad School

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Affording Grad School

I'm a recent college graduate who wants to go to graduate school, but the tuition costs (not to mention other fees) are absolutely staggering. My in-state universities don't offer the programs I want, so I'm afraid I might have to pay huge out-of-state rates. Does anyone have any ideas on the best way to save and/or pay for graduate school? I managed my bachelor's degree without debt, but I have very little money saved up to pay for further education. I'm not adverse to eventually taking out a loan, but I'm trying to be very cautious about borrowing money. I anticipate having a year or so to work before graduate school begins, but I'm not entirely sure how much I can save in that time. I am already temporarily living at home to cut expenses; does anyone have any other ideas?

Check Neighboring States

Often neighboring states will offer in-state rates for programs not offered in the state you live in. For example, when I wanted to go to library school, my home state, Massachusetts, had no MLS program at any state college, but I could get in-state tuition at SUNY-Albany(NY) or the U of Rhode Island. This was much cheaper than private college in Boston!

Tuition Reimbursement

Sarah mentioned she anticipated working a year before starting grad school. If she doesn't have a job yet, I would suggest she might settle for a job with a company that has a tuition reimbursement program. The current trend seems to be where the employee/student has to sign an agreement to stay with that company after they graduate for a certain number of years, usually two or three. It's one option for Sarah to consider.

Look for the Unusual

Both my husband and I managed to attend graduate school and earn our degrees while working. In my case, I also worked my way through undergrad college and used scholarships to pay my tuition. I suggest the following for this student:

Contact each school that you are interested. Speak directly with the financial aid office to discover what programs and scholarships are available at a particular school. In my case, I was able to become a teaching assistant in my field and at my university, thus affording food and rent each year that it took for my degree. I also qualified for a fellowship via a test. My husband was able to obtain a job in his field through a work study program. In addition, he taught subjects that were allied with his chosen field three nights a week at a junior college.

Leave no stone unturned. You may find that private industry in your school's locale has a place for you. Be prepared to take up to a year longer to complete your master or doctoral work by working at a job (this also serves as a ready job reference when you complete your degree).

Be amenable to tutoring "less fortunate" students in exchange for a tuition or fee reduction. Twice a month, I taught English as a second language at a local night program in exchange for my "fees." I also received a bag of groceries each week from a local supermarket that sponsored part of the program. Try to tutor, substitute teach, etc. There are plenty of job opportunities for graduate students willing to try a bit harder or look for the unusual. My husband was paid to chaperone a scientific expedition to a foreign country. The financial aid office will generally be able to help make your program affordable and should be your starting point for help. They can also help with housing and transportation.

Consider Working Part-Time

Congratulations on completing your degree! Grad school is a significant financial as well as emotional commitment and you are taking the right approach to consider your options.

Some graduate programs are willing to admit you to their program and will hold your admission for a year. This can give you time to move to that state and set up residency. Different states have different laws; the amount of time you must live in a state to become a resident can vary from six months to a year. If your program won't defer your start date, you might consider moving to a state that has two or three programs you are interested in and applying after your residency has been established.

Depending on your programs, you may be able to get a TA (teaching assistantship) or a RA (research assistantship). These are very low salary positions, but it's an income. If your programs offer TAs or RAs, you can find out how much they pay just by calling the department or checking their admission information. This gives you a framework to begin to structure a budget and lifestyle suited to the income before you actually have to live on that amount. Have a clear discussion with the contact person at the school about how the students support themselves and if health insurance is offered to graduate students.

When you are in grad school, don't dismiss the idea of a part-time job. (It can be considered a lack of tact and academic commitment if you discuss a part-time job at school, but more people do it than admit to it.) I knew someone who supported herself by working as a phlebotomist (drawing blood) on the weekends that was a six-month certification, which gave her significant financial security while she pursued her true career. Check with your financial aid department to find out how another income will affect your ability to receive loans or grants. But don't forget about good old stand-bys, such as babysitting and house-sitting. You can make enough to cushion your budget and not affect your financial aid.
Celeste from Texas

Establishing Residency vs. Living at Home

The student is worried about out-of-state tuition rates, but also is able to work for a year before grad school. In-state tuition residency requirements vary by school. Often you have to demonstrate that you were living in the state for non-education reasons prior to enrollment. Why not choose a state that has several universities with grad programs that would be good for you, work there for a year, and thereby establish your residency prior to enrolling? By having a home address and work place in your new state, you're establishing your residency basis for graduate school tuition. Take as many steps possible to establish residency as soon as you move, such as registering to vote and changing vehicle registration. If you're currently living with parents or in an otherwise inexpensive accommodation, consider whether the cost of moving a year early to your grad school state is lower than the amount of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition that you'll pay over the course of grad school.

Is Distance Learning a Possibility?

My daughter has just enrolled in grad school, aiming for a Masters in Library Science. The school that her degree will come from is in a different state, but they offer classes in our city one weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) a month, the rest is done via computer. She completed her BA via distance learning, so she knows she is motivated and independent enough to do this. You might want to see if there are any schools that offer this kind of a program in your area.

Investigate All Options

Grad school is a wonderful investment in your future, so don't discount the loan entirely. However, if you can avoid it, that is best. Here are some ways to do that!

  1. Many schools offer assistantships or fellowships where you work part time for the school and they give you a heavy discount on your tuition to attend full time. Having some experience related to your academic program helps here.
  2. Start investigating funding options early with the financial aid office, but contact the individual department, too. Each area may have scholarships and other aid to offer.
  3. Obtain a job at the university where you want to study. Many offer tuition remission as part of the benefit package. Investigate this option early, of course. This may require that you attend classes one or two at a time, but it may be a good option.
  4. Some private employers offer tuition assistance. Again, it may mean attending school part time, but you will be gaining work experience at the same time, which will be helpful. Some employers do not require that the education is job related, while others do.
  5. Some areas of the country, like New England, have a regional college exchange. This allows you to pay in-state tuition rates if your program is not offered at a school in your state if it is a member of the exchange. Other schools have joint programs with a school in a neighboring state to offer certain programs. Ask if your universities participate in such a program.
  6. Don't overlook online learning (distance education). You may be able to complete some courses online, which will save in commuting costs.
  7. Investigate all of your options before deciding. A private university may have significant financial aid to offer that would make the price comparable to a public school. Moving to another state may end up being cheaper than staying where you are. If you can live with relatives temporarily or live in graduate student housing, you may be better off. Check residency requirements first though. You don't want to end up paying the out-of-state rate. If you are planning to work for a year first, you may be able to use that time to gain residency.


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