Starting graduate school and pursuing a professional degree is an exciting milestone for any college student. Depending on the school you’re attending and the program you’re enrolled in, you’ll likely find that graduate school can cost more than undergraduate courses. In fact, Peterson’s has reported that the average cost of graduate school tends to range from $30,000 to $40,000 annually. While there are a lot of different things you’ll need to do in order to prepare for graduate school, preparing financially should be at the top of your list.
Here are some ways you can financially prepare for grad school:
Choose your school and program wisely
There are a lot of options when it comes to graduate programs, and you don’t have to attend the same school where you completed your undergraduate degree. You want to be sure that the college you choose offers a graduate program that aligns well with your goals, and that you’ll be taking classes that teach you what you really want to learn. After all, you’re making a significant investment in your future, and you want to be positive you’re making the decision that’s best for you. Additionally, costs will vary from school to school and by program, so this is also something you’ll want to take into consideration.
Consider a 529 plan
If you’re planning ahead for grad school, you may want to consider contributing to a 529 plan as soon as you know you want to continue your education beyond your undergraduate degree. The sooner you begin saving, the more you’ll benefit from the tax-savings advantages that a 529 plan provides.
Apply for grants, fellowships, and scholarships
Similar to federal financial aid, many of these programs are need-based, but some are also merit-based. If you are awarded a scholarship, it may cover all or a portion of your tuition expenses for graduate school. You’ll want to plan ahead when it comes to applying for scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Most of them have strict deadlines and may require essays and other materials with your applications. Scholarships.com is a great place to start, as it has an entire section dedicated to just scholarships for grad school students.
Fill out the FAFSA
You may be familiar with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if you filled one out previously for your undergraduate degree. By filling out this simple form, you can easily find out if you’re eligible for financial aid for your graduate degree. All students are encouraged to take the time to fill out a FAFSA, regardless of income. Even if you aren’t eligible for financial aid, or you don’t receive enough to cover tuition, you may be offered federal loans that can help with the cost of grad school. Some examples of federal loans available to grad students include Graduate PLUS Loans, Stafford Loans, and Perkins Loans.
Explore and compare private student loans
If you’re considering federal student loans, you should also explore and compare private student loans. Federal student loans carry special benefits such as income-based repayment that aren’t available on private loans, but check if you’re likely to use or need those benefits. If you have good credit or have a creditworthy cosigner, you might qualify for a lower interest rate which could save you money in the long run. Use our calculator to compare and see what your monthly payment might be.
Have an emergency fund
Anything can happen at any time, which can completely change your financial situation without notice. If you’re unable to pay for tuition, you may have to put grad school on hold, or stop attending altogether. The more you have saved up in case of an emergency, the less likely you’ll run into any financial snags during graduate school that may force you to put your degree on the back burner.
Many students find that between tuition costs and other living expenses, the cost of a graduate degree is a serious undertaking. Being financially prepared is crucial, even if you know you aren’t attending graduate school for a few more years. In fact, GradSchoolHub.com reports that the average age for graduate school students is 33, which means it could be several years after completing your undergraduate degree before you start graduate school. No matter where you are in your journey, it’s never too soon to begin preparing.
Sometimes, no matter how much we may prepare financially for something, life has other plans. Perhaps you didn’t meet a savings goal, or an emergency came up that your emergency fund didn’t quite cover. Instead of putting your dreams on hold or giving up on them completely because of finances, be sure to look into all of your options first. One of those options is private student loans, which can give you the opportunity to borrow what you need to cover graduate school costs. At College Ave Student Loans, we offer many different graduate student loan options.