What Kind of Financial Aid Is Available for Graduate School?

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Updated March 25, 2021

Paying for graduate school can be difficult, but with the current value of a graduate degree, it can be worth it. According to a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, a graduate degree increases an individual's earnings by an average of 38.3 percent. Graduate school can be costly, however, and to make things more difficult, 60 percent of graduate students receive no "free money" to help them pay for their education. Despite this discouraging statistic, funding for graduate school exists. It may just be a little tricky to find.

Where to Get Grad School Money From

There are numerous sources to turn to for graduate school financial aid. Some of the most popular include:

1. Scholarships:

At first glance, it can sometimes appear that scholarships are just for undergraduates. There are, however, scholarships out there for grad students. Many of them are given out by specific academic departments. Others take a little more digging to find. Foundations and government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) often offer scholarships to students studying particular fields.

2. Work - Current Employer

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 58 percent of employers offer some sort of financial assistance for graduate school. The degree pursued usually has to be associated with the student's line of work so that the employer feels they are benefitting from their investment, however, and the student may also be on the hook to work for the employer for a certain amount of time after graduation.

3. Work for the school:

Research and teaching assistantships are popular with graduate students, particularly those pursuing a doctoral degree. Typically they are offered by specific academic departments, so it is important to focus on a particular course of study early in the application process.

4. Government loans:

Although graduate students no longer qualify for subsidized Stafford loans, they still qualify for unsubsidized Stafford loans, PLUS loans and Perkins loans. These loans usually have better repayment options and borrower protections than private loans, so they are generally preferable.

5. Private loans:

Private loans may be the least favored option of graduate students looking for money, but there are private loans out there with low interest rates, sometimes with even lower rates than their government equivalents.

6. Loan forgiveness:

Loan forgiveness happens after you pay for graduate school rather than before, but it is still a viable option for many. Those who go on to work for nonprofits often have loan forgiveness opportunities available to them, as do some teachers, lawyers and doctors.

Prospective students should remember that almost everything is negotiable, and schools generally are willing to accept appeals for more money. This is particularly the case when a top student has several offers from different schools. Overall, if students take the initiative and explore every possible avenue, money is there to be found.

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