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Grad School Funding Options

A graduate degree can be expensive, but financial aid can help to make college more affordable. Before obtaining financing, it is important to establish a monthly budget or spending plan. It will show you how fast expenses can add up, as well as, help you identify unnecessary or extravagant expenses.

There are two types of plans you should consider creating. First, create an in-school budget, incorporating all expenses you will be taking on while you are attending school. For some students this may help you in deciding whether full-time or part-time enrollment is the better option. Second, you can create a budget for post-graduation, incorporating future earning potential and loan repayment. Looking forward is very important when deciding how much loan burden you can manage. When borrowing education loans, it is important to borrow only what you need.

Eighty percent of graduate students have to borrow loans to pay for a graduate degree, with the student loan debt ranging from $27,000 to $114,000 depending on degree. Knowing that 76 percent of graduate student loan borrowers say they are "extremely" or "very" burdened with their loan payments after graduation, it is important to weigh the amount you are borrowing with your expected income after completion of the degree.

Creative Funding Options

While the majority of gift aid available for higher education is for undergraduate students, there is still a variety of resources for graduate students. Depending on the graduate degree that you pursue, the amount of the resources available will vary. Regardless of what you may find through outside sources, it is always a good idea to check with the Financial Aid Office and individual department at your graduate school to find out what opportunities for assistance may be available.

Fellowships

Typically offered by private and government organizations for specific areas of study, fellowships can substantially help offset the cost of your graduate study, if not pay for the entire degree. They usually involve a research project that can be used to further the purpose of the organization offering the award, while at the same time advancing your skills in a particular field of study.

Assistantships

Usually provided to graduate students through part-time academic employment. Graduate assistants are paid a small stipend in exchange for working for the college or university, typically in research, teaching, or residential life.

Work-Study

This federal program (identical to the undergraduate program) allows you to do work on behalf of the campus and earn money. Typically work-study is made up of on-campus opportunities like working in the bookstore or an administrative office, but some schools offer off-campus service-related opportunities in the community.

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Many employers offer to pay a portion of your tuition or course work in a field of study related to your job in the form of tuition reimbursement. Under IRS regulations, $5,250 of the yearly employer tuition reimbursement for graduate expenses may qualify for income tax exemption, check to see if there are similar state tax exemptions.

College or University Employee Benefits

If you are a college or university employee, there are many opportunities for tuition reimbursement not only at the college/university you are employed at, but also often at schools within the same system. Check with the human resources office at your school for more detailed information about tuition reimbursement or tuition exchange opportunities.

Scholarships

There are limited scholarships available for graduate students and typically they are awarded for specific areas of study. Inquire within your graduate school financial aid office.

Departmental Grants

These grants are available through the department chair at your particular school. Often, the grants are linked to academic performance. Talk with the Department Chair or Dean at your graduate school to find out more.

Managing Undergraduate Loans

One of the biggest challenges for most prospective graduate students is the thought of managing undergraduate loans. Good news! Most loan programs have provisions allowing students to postpone payment during enrollment in a degree program. Check with your loan servicer for more details about options available to you.

Deferment & Forbearance

While enrolled in a graduate program, you may be eligible to postpone your payments on undergraduate loans through deferment or forbearance. There are many types of deferment depending on your situation. If you do not qualify for a deferment, you might be eligible for a forbearance which is a temporary postponement of payment of your principal and interest due to financial hardship.

Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Opportunities

If you work in certain fields, there are programs that will forgive all or some of your federal student loans. Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a new program that will forgive any remaining student loan debt after 10 years for eligible people who work in qualifying public service positions. Other loan forgiveness programs are available for teachers, nurses, or AmeriCorps and PeaceCorps volunteers. Talk with your student loan servicer(s) or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov for more information.