Whether it’s finding a new job, earning a promotion, or making yourself an indispensable member of an existing team at your company, a graduate school education can help you pursue a number of career-building opportunities.
For many considering a graduate school education, however, cost remains a pressing issue. It’s a concern they can’t afford to overlook. Acceptance into your chosen graduate program should elicit joy … not panic when you start thinking about how to pay for it.
Planning ahead to pay for a degree can make it much easier to come up with the funding you need, thus empowering you to take this important step. With that in mind, here are three ideas all students considering graduate school programs should investigate as they begin to make financial preparations for their degree.
Look for Federal Aid
Your search for financial aid should start with the federal government. The same way you filled out a Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before you started your undergraduate degree, you should fill one out before your graduate degree! As long as you do not enter graduate school immediately after undergrad and are not living at home, you will be considered an independent student. As an independent student, this means you only have to fill in your income, not your parents’ income. This will likely make a big difference in the finances you can secure from the government.
Keep in mind that the FAFSA form does have tight deadlines. You will need to verify that you have left yourself enough time to fill out the questions and get them submitted before the deadline.
Once you know how much federal funding you can count on, you will be ready to find other sources of capital to cover the rest. Getting an early start to your search for financial aid can help you gain a better understanding of your financial position and give you the time you need to adequately secure what you need.
Seek Help from an Employer
Employers have a vested interest in helping you earn your degree. More education often equals improved on-the-job performance. Employees will gain more skills in graduate school, the kind that helps business thrive. Therefore, many employers are willing to help fund your degree.
Ask your employer about any tuition assistance benefits they might offer. Some businesses offer benefits that, for example, directly contributes to tuition costs, while others might have tuition reimbursement programs. Learn what the stipulations and requirements your employer might have and do your best to fulfill these requirements. The more assistance you receive from your employer, the easier it will be to finance your degree.
Does your employer not have a tuition assistance program in place? Don’t let that stop you. Develop a list of concrete ways that your new degree would benefit your organization and present it to your boss. Help them see why it would be a good investment for them to help you earn this new degree. Even a little tuition assistance can have an impact, resulting in you having to borrow less.
Scholarships can come from many places. You might have luck finding scholarships that align with a particular community you belong to. For example, certain cultural or religious institutions may offer scholarships or grants to students who fit relevant qualities or who will study specific subjects. See if your degree program aligns with a public or private organization that may be willing to contribute towards your education.
Many scholarships at the graduate level also come from the schools themselves. As the US News and World Report describes, students who apply early can also help themselves secure a variety of tuition assistance programs. For example, fellowships that offer stipends and tuition assistance in exchange for research hours can help students fund their degrees. Other schools may offer scholarships for particular programs based on merit. Getting your name into the pool for consideration as early as possible will give you a better chance of success.
Bonus Tip: Work with Your School
Many schools also understand the struggles of students returning for graduate degrees. They know that graduate tuition can present a barrier for their students. Therefore, schools often feel motivated to help their prospective students in this matter.
Look for programs that allow you to set up payment plans for your degree. A great advantage of payment plans is that you get to make smaller payments throughout the year, rather than having to pay a lump sum at the start of the course. If your employer does offer some tuition assistance, see if your school can work with these programs to pay for classes on a schedule that aligns better with your tuition assistance plan.
Your school may also have tips and ideas for scholarships offered for your degree program. They may have ideas about where to look for additional funds for your degree. If you can determine your course of study for graduate school as early as possible, it will help you open these lines of communication with the school, the department, and the professors before other students, giving you the best chance to find any potential financial sources.
Earning a graduate degree provides an excellent opportunity for you to advance your career. Knowing where to look for financial aid can make a tremendous difference in finding the funding you while minimizing potential debt down the line.
Thinking about an online graduate school? Consider ACU Online. With the chance to learn in a Christ-centered environment and obtain the education needed to succeed, students will have the tools they need to reach for their dreams. To learn more about the benefits of online education and how ACU Online can help you take the next step, check out our all of our available programs by visiting www.acu.edu/online.