Pursuing a masters degree can cause a financial dilemma for many students. They know that in the long run, a graduate degree can enhance earning power and make a person more competitive in the job market. In the short term though, graduate school can be a financial burden. This guide is meant to help you see how to manage that short-term burden so you can reap the long-term benefits of having a masters degree.
Financing Your Master’s Degree: A Hierarchy list of Sources
There are a lot of different types of financing for college degrees, so the first step is to prioritize them. Below is a list of types of financing from the least costly to the most costly.
- Scholarships and grants. These awards for educational purposes are typically based on academic achievement or financial need and do not need to be repaid.
- Personal savings. Dipping into personal savings to pay for your master’s degree is a good option and less costly than a loan, but be sure to leave some cash for yourself to cover for unexpected expenses.
- Low-interest loans. The government sponsors low-interest loan programs targeting students. You should always have a plan for repayment before borrowing any money, however low-interest loans can make educational debt more manageable. Many of these loans allow you the freedom to defer payment and interest until you have graduated.
- Non-student loans. Private loans are likely to cost higher interest, so they should only be used to cover reasonable costs you can’t finance from other sources. In the same way, credit card debt should be used only as a final resort because it normally carries very high interest rates which can add up over time and deferment is unlikely.
Techniques for Financing Your Master’s Degree Education
Now that you know the different types of financing available to you, how do you find specific programs? The U.S. Department of Education, online education guides, and individual college financial aid offices can offer more detailed information, but the following is an overview of options you should consider:
Compare On-Campus and Online Master’s Programs
The initial step in financing your education is shopping around for the most cost-effective way to secure your degree. Be sure to consider online master’s programs, because online grad schools can be relatively cheaper than traditional colleges. Also, distance graduate education can help you save up on travel or commuting expenses.
Accumulate Savings and Experience
If you are unable to afford graduate school right away, look at it as an opportunity to both build up savings and gain some real practical experience before pursuing your master’s
Check with Your Employer
If you are considering a degree that’s relevant to your current occupation, see if your employer can offset partial or all of your tuition.
Apply for Scholarships
If you have a particular school in mind, check with their financial aid office to see what scholarships are available for students, especially if you have an outstanding academic record.
If you are an active member of a club or other organization, or are a military veteran, research any scholarships or other special financial aid available to people like you.
Apply for Federal Grants and Loans
Through the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government gives out almost $100 billion a year in loans, grants and other forms of financial assistance.
Consider Part-Time Education
If you are unable to afford full-time tuition, consider pursuing your master’s part-time so you can continue to work at your current job. Online grad schools help make it easier to fit master’s courses around your work schedule.
Another effective way of working while pursuing your master’s is through a school work-study program. For graduate students, you may be able to get an assistantship or fellowship which makes it possible for you to do work relevant to your field of study while earning tuition money.
Consider Cost of Bank Loans to Fill In Gaps
Once you have exhausted your other options, you may use the option of bank loans to fill in gaps. However, be aware that this is more likely to be the most expensive form of financing, so make sure you can make a realistic budget for how to repay your debt before taking the loan.
Online Grad Schools Help Make Degrees Affordable
If you are a person pursuing a master’s degree to help your career, consider what you expect to earn after graduating. While a master’s degree can significantly increase your earning potential, professionals in some fields can expect to earn relatively more than others, so take into account your return on investment when financing your degree.
Make the most of any scholarships, grants or employer support you might be able to obtain, and consider options like distance graduate education that can be low tuition and make it much easier to continue working while you pursue your degree.