Once you know you will be going to graduate school, you’ll want to take certain steps to prepare yourself for the investment you’re about to make. To help you do that, we have prepared a checklist of things to consider and actions to take when it comes to paying for graduate school — something you’ll want to be thinking about as soon as you start your applications.
12 months out from starting school
Research the ROI (return on investment) for the degree you’re considering. To plan your repayment schedule and potential options post-graduation, map out what your expected income and position will be within your industry. Does your training include residency or clerkship — or will you be able to go directly into a higher income position immediately after graduating?
Set your salary expectations. Sometimes the best advice on what to consider when planning out your future earnings and career potential can come from your friends, family, and networks of people who share your career path. Talk to graduates of the schools you’re considering and read up on each school’s median income for the previous year’s graduating class.
9 months out
Find out your credit standing and take any steps to improve it. While federal loans all offer the same interest rate no matter the student, private loans may offer more even competitive rates for financially responsible applicants.
Research scholarships, fellowships and other sources of “free money” you can use for paying for graduate school. Use the sites listed above to start your research. Also, consider local organizations that may offer scholarships for people from your area or with your background.
6 months out
Research the long-term costs and benefits of choosing federal and/or private loans. Federal loans come with a number of specific income-based repayment benefits, especially for public service positions.
Complete the FAFSA. For a given award year, you can complete the FAFSA as early as Jan. 1 of that year through Jun. 30, of the following year. Individual states have different deadlines and you can check on the FAFSA website.
4 months out
Congrats! You have selected the school you’ll attend. Now it’s time to estimate your cost of living in your new city. Will you be working during school or receiving an additional source of income or allowance? Be sure to factor this in when budgeting paying for graduate school.
Sort out your housing options. Are you planning on living on or off campus? If you are living on campus, find out whether housing is on a first come first serve basis, a lottery, or another type of selection process.
1-2 months out
Calculate how much you will be receiving in aid/grants/scholarships and how much you will need to take out in federal and private loans
Start applying for loans, both federal and private. View approved offers and compare to select the best terms for your needs.
Every semester you’re in school
When you’re using loans, you’ll have to take out new ones for each term you’re in school. Keep a record of the federal and private loans, both amounts borrowed and rates. While you’re in school you typically defer payment on your loans until six months after you graduate from school.
Phew! Now that you have a sense of how you will pay for your graduate degree, you can get back to the fun part of education: learning new things. Congratulations on starting an exciting new chapter in personal and professional life!