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Financing Graduate School

How will I finance graduate school?

Graduate school is expensive. Financing graduate school for most people - except for those lucky few who are offered a free ride - will take careful planning.

Are you likely to get a free ride? Let's assume "no" for starters. That leaves you with:

Be sure to contact the financial aid office(s) of the schools to which you are applying to get an overview of the financial options available to you as well as application deadlines.


Taking out loans is a common strategy for financing graduate education. There are several federal loan programs available to students enrolled in graduate programs (i.e. Subsidized Stafford Loans, Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans for Graduate and Professional Students and Federal Perkins Loans) as well as numerous private loans.

You should contact the financial aid offices of the schools to which you apply to find out about their application process and deadlines and which loan programs they offer. Most of them have web sites that provide this information.

For more information about the federal aid programs you can access the Department of Education's website at Outside Link and go to the student area.

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Graduate Assistantships

Some graduate programs provide students with the opportunity to work at the school while attending. Graduate assistants generally work part-time (~20 hours per week), receive a stipend and have a portion of tuition and fees waived.

Be sure to ask if there are graduate assistantships available, how competitive they are, and how/when you would go about applying for one. This information may be available through the financial aid offices of the schools to which you apply.

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Fellowships (of which there are few) tend to be offered directly through doctoral programs more often than through masters programs. Fellowships are very prestigious and awarded to the most academically competitive candidates - those candidates a school is trying to court.

What a fellowship covers financially will vary institution to institutions. Often they cover tuition, health insurance, certain fees and/or a stipend for living expenses. There may be additional institutional restrictions placed on stipends and they are generally taxable.

Applying for a fellowship is usually a separate process from applying to the program itself. Be sure to ask if there are fellowships available and how/when you would go about applying for them.

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In addition to fellowships, scholarships and grants are other forms of "free money" ($$ you don't have to pay back) that may potentially be available to you.

The first place to check is with the program itself. Do they either offer scholarships and/or grants or are they aware opportunities you can research?

Most likely you will need to take the initiative and do research on your own. Here are a couple of great starting places:

Petersons Guide: Outside

Associated Grant Makers: Outside

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Working While Attending School

For some, the prospect of getting out into the world of work is enticing - it provides the opportunity to apply what you've learned outside the classroom. For others, it is practical - it's time to start earning money.

Entering the world of work does not mean the end of your education. You will be learning on the job and you may choose to pair that hands-on learning with additional, formal education at the graduate level.

Some graduate programs cater to the working professional by offering evening and/or online courses. Others offer condensed weekend programs or reduced residency programs that require you to visit campus only occasionally throughout the semester.

Some employers (see below) invest in their employees' advanced education and will contribute to graduate school expenses.

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Employer-Financed Options

You may choose to pursue your graduate education in partnership with an employer who offers educational benefits. Some employers prefer to promote from within and actively encourage employees to expand their knowledge and skills by continuing their formal education by offering educational benefits. These benefits may take the form of underwriting all or part of your graduate school costs and/or allowing you to complete some of it during work time.

Usually, these benefits don't kick in right away, you have to obtain approval when you want to take courses, and coursework must be related to the work you are doing for the employer. There may be additional requirements linked to employer-financed educational benefits. For instance:

  • you may be required to pay for the course first and are then reimbursed once you've completed the course; some employers pro-rate reimbursement based on the grade you receive
  • you may be required to pay back your educational expenses if you don't remain with that company for a prescribed period of time once you've completed your degree

Important: not all employees are eligible for educational benefits even if an employer offers these benefits. Eligibility is often linked to organizational need. Be sure to clarify your eligibility for educational benefits with your employing organization.

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Page last updated: May 31, 2016