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Graduate School: Advancing Your Career and Hurting Your Bank Account

College Planning

Obtaining a graduate degree is a great way to advance one’s career, but the costs associated with it can be very daunting. According to FinAid.org, the average graduate school tuition for a master’s degree is $30,000 per year, while an MBA program will cost you an average of $40,000 per year. For four years of medical school, estimates top $300,000. While these tuition costs are certainly daunting, there are many ways in which graduate students can receive help with their bills.

Like an undergraduate degree, applicants will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for all schools, as well as the CSS Profile for certain graduate programs. For financial-aid purposes, graduate students are considered to be independent, which is often beneficial as there is no requirement to input parent/guardian information. The FAFSA and CSS Profile will allow the student to be considered for federal or state grants which are need-based forms of aid. Using other platforms, such as Sallie Mae’s online search tool, students can also find need- and merit-based scholarships.

Graduate programs also have fellowships, assistantships and work study programs that can reduce the cost of tuition through stipends, waivers or housing assistance. Fellowships are often provided through internships and service commitments. The schools, as well as outside research organizations and associations, can provide opportunities like these. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, being a teaching or research assistant is also common and saves an average of $10,500 for people pursuing their master’s and $18,500 for those pursuing doctorates. Research can not only help pay for tuition, but it can be largely beneficial on a resume. Universities also provide a plethora of job opportunities on campus, some under the work-study program which students can become a part of by filling out the FAFSA.

While loans can be scary, federal unsubsidized loans are common tools for payment and provide up to $20,500 per year, with the limit being $138,500 (including all loans outstanding from undergraduate programs). Medical students have higher allowances due to higher costs and higher expected starting salaries. These federal loans use an income-driven approach for the payback period - a great perk that other organizations offering loans may not provide. A general rule of thumb is that students should not take out more debt than their expected starting salary.

Employer-based help is an increasingly popular work benefit, especially for younger employees. If an employer offers tuition assistance, be extremely detailed in your understanding of the guidelines and restrictions, as some require you to work for a certain amount of time before receiving assistance, work during your program or maintain a minimum GPA.

Graduate school is a big financial commitment and while there are plenty of avenues to reduce the costs to you, it will require a lot of your resources whether personal savings, investments or the remainder of your 529 balance. We would recommend that you run through calculations to analyze your return on investment for any graduate program.