Key Tips for Financing Your Graduate Education

Of all the challenges facing a graduate student, financing is right up there. As a former Dean of Admissions and Dean of Students, many of the issues students brought to me during my weekly open office hours centered on their not having taken time to think through the financial responsibilities they were assuming in pursuing a graduate education. While graduate school is expensive, it is affordable, and can be made more so by taking time to plan, conduct research and think outside the box. Here are a few tips for financing your graduate education that have been extremely helpful to students over the years:

Ask and answer a few critical personal questions:

  • If I already have some debt, how comfortable am I taking on more? If I have no outstanding debt, how much am I comfortable taking on?
  • Should I reduce my debt load for another year or two, thereby giving me more time to prepare for grad school, and to really check out all of my graduate program options?
  • Have I considered the consequences of pursuing a career in an area that doesn’t pay as much (i.e., not for profit)?
  • When doing your research on graduate programs, spend equal time researching what each program offers in financial aid as you do the academic program, etc. Do not wait until you are admitted before looking in to this. Why? Because some institutions offer scholarships or fellowships for which you apply at the time you submit your application. If you wait until being admitted, you have lost out on the opportunity to be considered for these scholarships/fellowships.
  • Check your credit score just after submitting your applications. There could be a problem, and if you are not aware of it, you could be held up from receiving financial aid, and by the time things are resolved it could be too late.
  • Check your local, state and federal department of education for scholarships and grants. Also ask about this with civic organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Elks, Lions, and religious organizations/denominations.
  • Complete all forms/applications on time and properly as you did with your application materials. And remember to follow directions. Consider working at the institution, part or full time. Consider working with/for a faculty member. This is a very viable option. Grad schools love to hire their students. I did this during both my master’s and doctoral program, and the experience, not to mention the financial help, was invaluable.
  • Do not stop asking for assistance once you have enrolled. There could be additional sources of financial aid that become available once you are already there. Toward the end of each term, stop by the financial aid office and ask if there are any new scholarships available, and in addition, ask what you can do to apply for them.

There is a major myth that graduate school is too expensive, and therefore, impossible to attain. This is usually not the case. With adequate planning ahead of time, along with the pursuit of excellent funding opportunities once admitted/enrolled, it is possible to finance your graduate education.

Be sure to check out Dr. Don’s book, “Road Map for Graduate Study, A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students,” on the GSRM website.