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How To Pay for Grad School

Are you ready to invest in a graduate degree, but unsure how to pay? The good news is that you have more options than you might expect.

In some ways, financing graduate school is a lot like financing your undergrad education. However, there are other possibilities that are unique to grad school.

In this article, we’ll examine both familiar and new ways to fund your education. Together, these options can form a path to the education and the future you want.  

First Steps

When it comes to paying for graduate school, the first step is to consider your savings. How much money do you have saved up that can go toward your education? One option is to take a break between undergrad and graduate school to work and build your savings.

You may also have family members who are willing to contribute to your education. Even if you set up a repayment plan for a family loan, you’ll spare yourself the high interest rates of a federal or private loan. Of course, your family members aren’t obligated to help and may not be in a position to do so.

Finally, do you have any assets that you could sell? For instance, you might sell an expensive car and opt for a cheaper option or even a bike. You could also have a yard sale or list items on eBay. A yard sale probably won’t cover your tuition, but you want to reduce the size of your loans as much as possible.

Scholarships and Grants

Your next option should be money that you don’t have to pay back. Scholarships and grants fall into this category.

In most cases, grants are need-based, while scholarships are linked to either need or merit. For graduate students, many scholarships and grants are tied to a specific field or to committing to work in a specific location after graduation. More scholarships may be available if you work in a high-need field, like teaching or nursing.

Scholarships and grants may come from your graduate program or from public and private organizations and nonprofits. 

Here are some sites that will help you find scholarships for grad students:

Financial Aid

Like in undergraduate school, financial aid is another helpful resource. You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can help you qualify for grants, opportunities like work-study, and federal loans. 

Remember that aid is often awarded on a “first come, first served” basis, so submit your FAFSA as early as possible.

3 Tips for Getting the Most Aid (i.e. Money) From the FAFSA

Financial aid may also be available through your university and/or graduate program. You’ll be considered for these forms of aid when you submit your application. You can contact the financial aid office or a faculty member in your area of study to determine what your school offers.


Based on your FAFSA, you may qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program, which provides part-time jobs for students with financial need.

The work-study program emphasizes work that’s related to your area of study (when possible) and benefits the public interest.

In many cases, you’ll work at your school. If your school has an agreement with other employers, you may work off campus. 

Is Work-Study Better Than a Part-Time Job?

Graduate students can be paid hourly or on a salary, and the money you earn goes directly to you. You may have the option to have your pay go to education costs and/or tuition as well.

Like other forms of aid, work-study positions are assigned on a first come, first served basis. Again, be sure to fill out your FAFSA early to receive as much aid as possible.


Unlike most undergraduate students, grad students can pay for school with research and teaching assistantships. 

These positions pay at least part of tuition (sometimes full tuition) and a stipend. Earning one of these positions is based on merit. 

Once you know your area of study, be on the lookout for professors who may be willing to take you on as an assistant. You can also reach out to your school to see what’s available. 

However, you should keep in mind that assistantships are a lot of work. You will help a professor with either research or teaching for about 20 hours weekly. That may not sound like much, but it can be a hefty workload when paired with your graduate studies.

Assistance from an Employer 

Many employers, particularly at larger corporations, are willing to fully or partially finance employees’ degrees. This is especially true if your degree (and the advanced, specialized knowledge that comes with it) will benefit the company.

Other companies will reimburse a percentage of your tuition. This isn’t always a huge amount, but every bit helps. Even if you won’t receive the money until after paying for your classes, it can go toward repaying loans or refilling your bank account.

If you decide to attend grad school after launching your career, this option is worth looking into.

Federal Loans

Once you’ve exhausted the above options, it’s time to consider student loans. The most common federal loans for graduate students are the Stafford Loan and the Grad PLUS Loan.

Stafford Loans pay out up to $20,500 per year. They are unsubsidized, which means you begin accruing interest as soon as you take out the loan. The interest rate is 6.6 percent, and you’re typically required to start making payments six months after graduation.

Grad PLUS Loans don’t have an annual limit. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance at your school. For these loans, you’ll need a good credit score. The interest rate is 7.6 percent, plus about 4 percent in fees. 

These loans can go toward tuition, living costs, and other education-related expenses.

Private Student Loans

If you’re still short after combining the above options, private student loans should be your last resort. These loans can be issued by banks, credit unions, and other financial service companies.

Federal loans have fixed interest rates, but private loans offer both fixed and variable interest rates. In addition, you may have to begin paying off private loans while you’re still in school.

If you have good credit, however, private loans may allow you to borrow more than federal loans and may even offer a better interest rate.

Explore Private Loan Options

Final Thoughts: How to Pay for Grad School

Graduate school is expensive, and potential grad students are understandably fearful of taking on debt to finance their education.

Before deciding that the cost isn’t worth it, explore the many ways you can pay for an advanced degree. Start by taking stock of your savings, the possibility of a family loan, and any assets that you can sell. 

Consider working for a couple of years to build your savings. Even better, you may be able to find an employer who will finance or partially finance your degree.

After that, investigate options that don’t have to be repaid:

  • Scholarships and grants
  • Financial aid
  • Work-study programs
  • Assistantships

Only consider loans if these sources aren’t enough to pay for your degree. Start with federal loans, such as the Stafford Loan or Grad PLUS. Your final option should be a private loan.

It’s up to you to determine whether investing in graduate school is worth it for your career. But if you need a graduate degree to get where you want to go, there are plenty of ways to pay for it.

Find the right graduate school for you

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.