Best Financial Aid For Graduate School

By Rebecca Lake. May 7th 2016

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in a specialized field, you will likely need to complete an advanced degree at the graduate or doctorate level. While a graduate degree can provide you with the additional education, training and skills necessary to be successful, it can also be expensive. For many students, the financial aspects of obtaining a graduate degree can be a major obstacle to their education. Prospective graduate students can use the following tips to find the best financial aid resources to help make their educational and professional dreams a reality.

Assessing Your Need

The first step in finding the best graduate school financial aid is to know how much money you’re actually going to need to complete your education. Start by making a list of all the expenses you expect to pay while you’re in school. The most obvious costs will be those related to tuition, books, fees and equipment. However, you should also calculate the cost of your living expenses, including your rent, utilities, food, transportation costs, insurance, etc. to determine how much money you’ll need to live on a monthly basis. If you plan to work while you’re in school, your income may cover any expenses not directly related to your education.

You should also make a list of your existing financial resources. This may include certificates of deposit, an education savings plan such as a 529 account or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA), education savings bonds, stocks or mutual funds. This includes assets owned by you and those established for you by your parents, grandparents or other relatives. Once you have a clear picture of what your estimated expenses are versus your existing financial resources, you can begin to explore the various avenues for funding your education.(For more information about 529 accounts, see Everything You Need To Know About 529 College Savings Accounts.)

Student Loan Funding Options

If you find that you lack sufficient resources to cover the cost of your tuition, books, fees and other expenses, you may consider borrowing money to pay for your education. Student loans are available from the federal government, as well as private lenders. The federal government offers a variety of loan options for graduate and professional students, including subsidized and unsubsidizedStaffordloans, Perkins loans and Direct PLUS loans. In order to apply for these loans, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive. A separate application is required for the Direct PLUS loan.(To learn about student loan forgiveness, see A Guide On Federal Student Loan Forgiveness.)

If you don’t qualify for federal student loan funding or your aid package doesn’t cover the full cost of attendance, you can also consider private student loans. Private student loans are offered through numerous banks and lenders, including Sallie Mae, Chase and Citibank. While private student loans can supplement any gaps in your education funding, it’s important to note that these types of loans typically carry higher interest rates than those offered by the federal government. In addition, private student loans are not eligible for federal income-based repayment programs.

Finding Scholarships And Grants

Searching for scholarship and grant funding should be a top priority for every graduate student, since this type of financial aid typically does not have to be repaid. Scholarships and grants in certain fields, such as nursing or teaching, will sometimes require the recipient to complete a specific period of employment or service as a condition of the award. When searching for scholarship and grant opportunities, it’s important to start with your prospective school first. Depending on the type of program you’re enrolled in, you may be eligible to apply for fellowship funding. In many cases, fellowships will cover the cost of your tuition, books and fees while also providing a small monthly living allowance.

Scholarships and grants are available from a wide range of organizations at the local, state and national level. While national scholarship and grant programs tend to be the most generous, they also tend to be the most competitive. When searching for funding, look for opportunities that fit your background, academic achievement and field of study as well as general scholarship opportunities. For example, specialized scholarships and grants are available for minority students or students pursuing degrees in certain fields, such as nursing, education and engineering. You should also research funding opportunities through organizations in your area, such as military veterans’ organizations, small business associations or charity groups.

Alternative Ways To Pay

In addition to scholarships, grants and loans, there are several other alternatives to find graduate school funding. If you’re working, you may consider asking your employer about education assistance or tuition reimbursement programs. These programs pay for some or all of your education costs on the premise that you’ll use the education and skills you acquire in order to benefit your company. If you’re not employed, a paid internship can help you gain valuable work experience in your field in addition to covering some of your education costs. You may also consider pursuing assistantship programs through your school. These programs typically provide some amount of tuition remission, along with a monthly stipend and insurance coverage in exchange for working as a research assistant, teaching assistant, administrative assistant or resident housing assistant on-campus.

While securing funding for graduate school can be challenging, the financial and emotional rewards associated with pursuing a career you enjoy can make it worthwhile. Taking the time to research every possible financial aid opportunity can ensure that nothing stands in the way of your scholastic and professional goals.

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