Grad school | April 2, 2020 | Mary Sun
Mary Sun, grad student and recipient of the Sallie Mae Bridging the Dream for Graduate Students Scholarship, outlines the steps you need to take to pay for grad school, like filing the FAFSA, researching fellowships, and talking to your family.
Thinking of going to grad school? Congratulations! Graduate and professional school can serve as a catalyst for your career and your contributions to society. As an extension of your traditional education, grad school provides a platform for continued learning, growth, and discovery. This investment can have many benefits: career advancement, increased earning potential, additional industry and research expertise, and network expansion within your field.
Regardless of your rationale for making this step, a very serious and important question remains: how are you going to pay for it? I’m going to focus on the not-so-obvious steps – the moves you should consider making before adding numbers and signing loan documents.
Acknowledge that your financial stresses are real and accept that in order to take on a large investment like grad school, your lifestyle may need to change. Money has just as much of a mental impact as it does a practical one, and you should think early on about how the ways you spend, earn, and save money may need to change. For example:
These changes can feel overwhelming, but remember that you’re not alone! Many people have overcome these challenges to further their education. A little adjusting now can lead to a great payoff later.
This investment may affect more than just you. Aside from being open about how you’ll be spending your time (studying, studying, and more studying), you’ll want to discuss the amount you’re willing to finance in order to complete your degree. It’ll be helpful to share the projections of your future earnings, and walk through the interest of your loans (and how it works). There are very helpful loan calculators you can use to help illustrate your financial investment and understand what the impacts might be for you and your family .
The financial landscape for graduate school, especially when it comes to financial aid, is vastly different than the one encountered in undergrad. There are many scholarships for college students and a wide variety of resources to help you find them. When it comes to grad or professional school, though, there are fewer opportunities to secure funding that vary by field, program, and even location. A few tips to get you started:
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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t just for undergrads. And, since many students have been filing this form since their first year of college, it should be an easy process especially if you are no longer claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax returns. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, file the FAFSA. You can use the results to talk to your school’s financial aid office about potential additional assistance.
After you’ve filed the FAFSA and explored options that you don’t have to pay back (scholarships, fellowships, etc.), you may be considering federal student loans or private student loans. Before you decide to finance a portion of your education with federal or private loans for grad school, get to know various repayment plan options, especially those that are specific to your discipline. Investigate the different options based on the amount of interest and the repayment timeline. Also, look for programs that can help make repaying easier for you and/or offer loan forgiveness. For example, there are several federal and statewide programs that reward you for working in an underserved area by helping with your loan repayment. The availability of repayment resources has expanded in the last decade, so do your research to make sure you uncover all potential opportunities.
Regardless of how you intend to pay for grad school, start with a clear vision of how your lifestyle may change, talk to your loved ones about the investment you’re planning to make, and turn over every rock to find scholarships and fellowships before you start taking on loans. If you start with these tips, your path to (and through) grad school can be centered on what you’re setting out to achieve, instead of how you’re going to pay for it. Good luck on your new journey!