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How to Pay for Graduate School

The decision to apply for graduate school is a big one — professionally, personally, and financially.

The money you use to pay for graduate school is likely to come from a variety of sources including student loans, scholarships and grants, work-study, your own savings, and gifts from people who support your goals. Read on for a closer look at some of the ways you can pay for graduate school.

how to pay for graduate school

Federal loans

No matter your degree, you will likely be eligible to borrow with federal loans including unsubsidized Stafford Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans.

A benefit that comes with federal loans is the ability to use one of the government’s income-based repayment programs. However, IBR programs do have drawbacks including a potentially big tax bill at the end of the repayment period.

Rates on federal loans are set by the government and are adjusted each year. Every borrower receives the same rate no matter their credit profile and these loans do not ever require a cosigner.

Type of loan Rates and costs (through 7/1/17) Maximum borrowing per year
Federal Stafford Loan Fixed 5.31%, with a loan fee of more than 1%. Interest accrues with loan origination. $20,500
Graduate PLUS Loan Fixed 6.31%, with a loan fee of more than 4%. Interest accrues with loan origination. Amount up to the school’s Cost of Attendance minus the amount of all other financial aid you are receiving (including other loans).
Federal Perkins Loan Fixed 5%; no loan fees. Interest accrues with the start of the repayment period. $8,000

Private loans

If you have maxed out your federal financial aid and need additional student loans to cover your costs, you might consider private loans. For graduate students who know they have high-earning prospects and have an excellent credit profile, a private loan could offer more competitive rates as compared to federal loans.

Unlike federal loans, rates vary and may be fixed or variable with a private company; the rates offered are determined by your credit profile. Most private student loan lenders use LIBOR as their benchmark rate for variable rates. Using a co-signer to apply for a private loan may also improve rates offered.

Scholarships, grants, and fellowships

Many graduate programs also have specialty loans, scholarships, grants and fellowships available specifically for that school or degree type.

To get started looking at scholarships, grants and more for your graduate studies you might want to research through these databases:

You can also read more here:

Getting ready: a checklist for student loan borrowers

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.” 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. For example, to apply for federal student aid for the academic year 2016-2017, you can complete this form between January 1, 2016, and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2017. 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.

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!

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