Heading off to grad school? Good for you, girl! Maybe you’re a recent college grad and are forgoing an internship after graduation in order to specialize right off the bat, or are an experienced #girlboss who wants to change your career or knows that super-focused studies will help you land a job that would be a stretch without a master’s. Either way, earning a graduate degree is a great step toward accomplishing your fierce career goals. Though grad school can be tougher to finance than undergrad, it’s not impossible to pay for. To score some tips on how to do it, we talked with Julie Miller, a money expert at Mint, a personal finance management website and app, and Amanda Wood, a director at SoFi, an online lender giving people access to cheaper loans. Instead of stressing, scroll on for their amazing advice.
1. Define your lifestyle. Will you live in your current apartment or at home? Are you moving to a new town? If you’re moving, have you researched the price of regular expenses, like going out to dinner or treating yourself to a mani? To understand how expensive your lifestyle will be while in school, Julie says, “Read online, chat with friends who live in the area (if you have them) or simply call your university to figure out how much your lifestyle will cost you while in school. Ask for student money management, financial aid or the graduate student association on campus.” She says to ask about things like projected entertainment costs for basic student life. “Knowing these costs in advance will help you assess the overall cost of attendance, which is an important factor to consider when you choose your grad school.”
2. Adjust your budget. As you progress through grad school and work toward your degree, your budget will likely change — maybe even more than once! Julie notes, “Textbook costs can change from semester to semester and the cost of rent can change by the year, so review your budget and make changes as you go.” We love using money managing apps like Mint to keep track of cash flow, but a simple template can do the trick too.
3. Take advantage of tax breaks. Believe it or not, enrolling in grad school can qualify you for tax breaks. Think of it like free money, and don’t forget about breaks come tax season. “The Lifetime Learning Credit for Graduate Students allows for a tax break of up to $2,000 for qualified educational expenses,” Julie tells us. “Take advantage of it.”
4. Snap up free money. Julie says, “There are hundreds of grants and scholarships out there for graduate students. Don’t miss out on them.” Use your background, strengths and experience to apply for those that are the perfect fit for you.
She also notes, “If you don’t feel like a scholarship is something you want to pursue, you can always apply for campus-based financial aid. Scholarships, federal work-study and grants, including the Federal Perkins Loan and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), are options, even if you’ve already taken out student loans. Most states and schools use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for other non-federal aid.”
5. Refinance federal student loans. While refinancing is definitely becoming more mainstream, many students are still totally unaware of how beneficial it can really be. Amanda says, “Not to be confused with consolidation, refinancing a loan with a new lender means they’ll effectively pay back your old loan. You’re then issued a brand new loan at a potentially lower interest rate, with a lower required monthly payment.” Grad students are super well-positioned for refinancing because of the simple fact that you’re more likely to be able to show a positive track record of paying off debt, in addition to proving you earn enough to pay back the new loan.
6. Look into private loans. Amanda tells us, “So many students mistakenly think that certain subsidized loan benefits for undergraduates also apply to graduate level loans — the Federal Direct Unsubsidized or Federal Graduate PLUS loans. It’s actually NOT true. Terms vary considerably between undergraduate and graduate loans, so always do your research.”
She clued us in on another common myth too, telling us that, despite popular belief, federal loans aren’t always the cheaper option. “For example,” she says, “since MBA candidates are relatively mature borrowers with credit history and a financial foundation, private loan options are more readily available.” In some cases, those options can be less expensive (especially if you have a solid credit score). Take the time to weigh the interest rates and upfront costs of ALL of your loan options.
7. Get a job in your field. Consider working while you get your study on if you’re still coming up short on cash. If you’re not sure where to start looking, consider looking for work at your university — you might find something that pays while helping you gain practical experience in your field. Julie says, “Reach out to your school for job opportunities first. Contact the student affairs office to connect with someone for advice and information about potential fellowship or assistantship programs. If you’re not sure which funding opportunities are available in your field, talk to faculty members and fellow students to get a better idea of what options are available.” You could not only pick up valuable skills, but make connections with peers and profs to tap into post-grad school.
Are you going to grad school? Tell us what you’ll study and where you’re headed on Twitter @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)