The number of jobs requiring a doctoral or professional degree at the entry level is projected to increase 20% between 2010 and 2020. For master degrees, the expected increase is 22%. These stunning numbers mean only one thing — those who want jobs with competitive salaries and benefits need to earn graduate degrees.

Going back to school to earn a master's, doctoral, or professional degree is not an easy financial undertaking in the curent economy. Considering the fact that being a student full time usually results in the lack of time for a job, many cannot afford to go back to school.

Unbeknownst to some, there are loans available for graduate students. In fact, there are three major loan sources for those wishing to pursue advanced degrees.

Federal and State Programs

Graduate students need to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to be considered for federal or state financial aid. This is the same form used for undergraduate studies. Since graduate students are considered independent, only the students' assets are considered.

There are a number of federal loans that graduate students are eligible for, including:

  • Federal Stafford Loan – set at a fixed 6.8% interest rate
  • Federal Perkins Loan – set at a fixed 5% interest rate
  • Plus Loan – set at a fixed 7.9% interest rate

In addition to loans, there are federal grants that students do not have to pay back, including:

  • TEACH Grant – for students interested in beginning a career in teaching
  • Federal Pell Grant – for students enrolled in postbaccalaureate teacher certificate program

If students are interested in earning a small income while pursuing their studies, they can apply for the Federal Work-Study Program. This will allow graduate students to work in the local community or on-campus for minimum wage.

Colleges and Universities

Educational institutions that accept graduate students are sources for financial assistance. Typically speaking, there are fellowships, scholarships, or grants available to those pursuing advanced degrees. Usually, the support comes in the form of tuition, fees, or supplies reimbursements, or provide students with a stipend for living expenses.

For graduate students, support can also come in the form of salaries or partial tuition waivers through research and teaching assistantships. Students with assistantships may be given basic research assignments, teach freshmen, or proctor examinations. This is one way to gain experience in the graduate student's field of study.

The school may also offer connections that lead to internships and employment for graduate students, tapping into jobs on-campus, as well as those in the local community. It is best for graduate students to contact their school or department heads for more information.

Private Funding

Graduate students have found financial support from private organizations and foundations. One highly prestigious and extremely competitive program, the Fulbright Scholars, allows graduate students to live and study abroad.

A lesser known opportunity that provides postdoctoral and senior research awards through the National Research Council's Research Associateship Programs. These awards are given to students in the Social Sciences, Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics.