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Considerations for Financing Grad School Education

Updated on April 8, 2015
Christ Church at the University of Oxford, engraving by N. Parr, 1742
Christ Church at the University of Oxford, engraving by N. Parr, 1742 | Source

Taking the plunge and going back to grad school is a choice that many people are making with the current economic situation. Many of these people might have considered it years previously, but did not go because getting a job and making real money sounded more appealing. The Great Recession put many of these people out of work.

Getting an advanced degree can be personally fulfilling, but it is important to find a way to pay for it without going into mounds of debt. Fortunately, getting funded for graduate school can be easier than it is for an undergraduate education, but most of this funding will go to students in the Arts and Sciences. The competition for even getting admitted and for the best funding packages is quite stiff.

Can You Get Funding for Graduate School?

The first consideration to think about when looking into going to graduate school is how to pay for it. Graduate school is usually even more expensive the an undergraduate education on an annualized basis. Many of those who think about going on with their education already have a large sum of student debt outstanding.

Fortunately for those looking into going to graduate school, it is sometimes easier to get funded when starting a graduate program. At a minimum, a graduate degree in the arts and sciences will be tuition-free for the best students. Even some of the mediocre (in terms of graduate school applicants) will get a tuition waiver.

Yale University as it looked in 1807
Yale University as it looked in 1807 | Source

What Kind of Funding Is Available for Graduate Students?

Most schools will have a number of options when it comes to financing a graduate school education for those looking to get a graduate degree. Here are some common funding packages that schools will offer:

  1. Tuition Waiver Only--Much as the title of this section sounds, a student who is going to get a tuition waiver only will not get any living expenses taken care of and will get no stipend for any work. The only option open to this student will be to get a job outside his or her department.
  2. Tuition Waiver Plus Assistantship--Students who get this level of funding will get a stipend in addition to the tuition waiver. Most assistantships will be quarter-time or half-time, which means a student will work for the department for an average of 10 to 20 hours per week over the course of the regular semester. Generally, a graduate assistant can expect to serve as a grader for a regular faculty member who has a large class.
  3. Tuition Waiver Plus Graduate Instructor Status--This package will be much like a graduate assistantship with the difference being that the student will be responsible for teaching a class or two in addition to taking classes. This is great experience in higher education for those who can land it.
  4. Graduate Fellowship--This is the best setup for anyone who can land it. Most graduate fellowships will allow graduate students to spend their entire year taking classes and/or researching and writing. There are no teaching responsibilities in most instances and students still get the tuition waiver and a more generous stipend.

Some students will get no funding at all and will have to pay for their degree out of pocket should they choose to study. Most business degrees will require students to pay their own way through savings, loans, or employer financing.

Some readers might wonder what a stipend can be for a graduate assistant or fellow. Some of the lower amounts that are available would be in the $10,000 for a year as a grader. Some of the better fellowships can pay in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. Getting funded as a graduate student will not make one rich immediately. Most of the disciplines that are research heavy and provide assistantships will not make most of their graduates rich ever. These funds can keep a person from having to take out six figures in loans, though.

What Is Your Station in Life?

Most people will want to think about where they are in life before applying to graduate school. Those who are making $250,000 per year might want to save up enough to retire early before embarking upon grad school, unless they can pull it off on a part-time basis. Those who are married without kids could make the process of getting through graduate school work more easily than those who have kids.

One of the most difficult ways to get a master's or doctoral degree is by going through while married with children as a full-time student. It can be done (I did it myself), but it is not terribly easy. Going through school with younger children will probably be easier that doing it while the kids are teenagers. These are all things to consider before trying to go to graduate school.

Still Want to Go to Grad School?

This article did not deal with the actual work of going to grad school. There will be many late nights and long papers for most people who go to grad school and earn a degree. Time will be sacrificed in which a person could theoretically make much more money. For those who choose to take the plunge, however, graduate school can be a great time to expand learning in a given subject and make oneself more marketable in certain fields. Those who can do it without getting tons of loans will be better off in the long run.

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    • cprice75 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Price 

      5 years ago from USA

      Sometimes, using a seminar paper as a chapter in the dissertation can be a big help :)

    • cprice75 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Price 

      5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the comment. There are statistics that show those with a college degree are much less likely to be unemployed than those who do not have the degree.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is amazing how our definition of what is "difficult" changes over time and education. In grad school I was overwhelmed almost to the point of tears every time I thought about the dissertation. Finally I got past that by determinedly choosing to think of each chapter as a longish 30-40 page seminar paper and I had successfully done one of those -- 28 pp -- so I could cope with that. :) I bet we could both write 20 pp on almost nothing, or almost anything, now. :) Theresa

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      These days it helps to have higher education in order to land a job. Excellent suggestions for those who are considering grad school.

    • cprice75 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Price 

      5 years ago from USA

      I remember wondering how I would get my senior seminar paper done. It was only 20 pages. I could almost write 20 pages on absolutely nothing now.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      You are absolutely right. I didn't think to mention it because a substantial writing sample was part of my application package to Emory. But you do write and write and write, and then write some more. Best not to head for a graduate program in the humanities unless you really like writing. :)

    • cprice75 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Price 

      5 years ago from USA

      Also, having a really good writing sample does not hurt in the humanities because you will write, and write, and write, and when you're done writing, you'll write some more. I think my record was around 125-150 pages in one semester.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very informative and helpful. People do need to be realistic and not get so deeply in debt they can never get out. You laid out the various possibilities nicely. Great grades, great recommendations and doing well on the GRE does often lead to tuition waiver and a stipend. Excellent Hub. Theresa

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