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Paying for Graduate School

College is a huge expense, and adding an additional two or four years of school to the cost of your bachelor’s degree may not be appealing. Consider that graduate students are typically settled into adulthood careers and real incomes, and the cost of grad school becomes a big deal. However, if you find the careers offered by advanced degrees to be worthwhile, there are ways to pay for graduate school.

Fellowships

Graduate fellowships are the holy grail of graduate student financial aid. Typically, fellowships involve a tuition waiver and a stipend, with other potential perks. If you are awarded a fellowship, you are essentially getting paid to be a graduate student, and you’re freed of financial concerns that could interfere with work. Fellowship recipients are free to take classes and conduct research that they find interesting and worthwhile, typically without any additional commitments like teaching.

Fellowships are offered both by universities and by external agencies, such as scholarship foundations or government programs. Some external fellowships may require a service commitment or a partial repayment, or may make other stipulations as to how the award can be used. Similarly, some university fellowships may have specific research obligations that the recipient will need to fulfill, though awards with substantial teaching or research requirements are usually termed assistantships.

Assistantships

The majority of graduate programs, especially those at large state colleges and universities, will offer teaching or research assistantships to graduate students. These placements typically come with a full or partial tuition waiver and stipend. In exchange, recipients are asked to assist a faculty member with research or with teaching a class. Some grad teaching assistants are given their own classes to teach, such as labs or lectures. The work load can vary for a teaching or research assistantship, but is considerably lighter than a full-time faculty position.

Some colleges also offer additional assistantships beyond teaching or research. The most common is graduate service assistantship, where a grad student works with faculty or staff, usually in some sort of administrative capacity. Service assistants usually work in one of several student services offices on campus, assisting students directly or indirectly. In general, assistantships are a great source of grad school funding and also provide useful job experience. The workload can feel stressful, and the demands of your assistantship may limit the number of classes you are able to take in a given semester. However, a free ride shold never be undermined.

Graduate Scholarships

Graduate students are eligible in a variety of scholarship forms, so if you’re worried that undergraduates get all academic award money, research graduate scholarships and you will learn differently. If you’re returning to school to further your career, there’s a possibility your employer may also provide some sort of assistance for you to attend graduate school. Bear in mind that scholarship money from your employer may require a promise to return to your former business or organization, upon completed of the graduate degree. You can also do a scholarship search to find aid opportunities that are open to graduate students.

Financial Aid

Federal student financial aid is also available to graduate students. Graduate students are considered independent on the FAFSA, so they do not need their parents’ financial information to apply for aid. While students in the majority of graduate programs no longer qualify for Pell Grants, they can still receive Stafford Loans and Federal Work-Study. Graduate Stafford Loan limits are more generous than their undergraduate counterparts, and cover almost all the costs associated with a graduate education. Graduate students can also borrow PLUS Loans, but unlike undergraduates, they take out the loans for themselves, rather than having parental loans.

Other Income Sources

Even with assistance, many grad students cannot afford to pay for school and pay their bills. There are some sources of off-campus income that students may want to consider. Research nearby teaching opportunities at community colleges. Many will hire graduate students, especially grad students with teaching experience, for freshmen, in-demand courses. Many graduate students cobble together an almost comfortable income, and an impressive teaching portfolio, by serving as adjuncts off-campus. Working as a research assistant or freelance writer outside your department could also be an option- most grad students have demonstrated skills in these areas. Tutoring and scoring placement exams or essay sections of standardized tests are also perennial favorites.

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Last Reviewed: October 2019