How Much Does Grad School Cost? Can I Afford It?
Article contributed by chief-editor of MyGraduateSchool.com - Sarah Brown Tesolin
Let’s face it, graduate studies in most fields can be expensive and set you back many thousands of dollars right from the beginning. The good news is that, in many respects, it is easier to finance graduate school than undergraduate school, and your situation probably is not as bleak as you might first assumed. It is also important to recognize that in most programs that you would be applying for, graduate students will receive some source of income. Unlike undergraduate studies, there are many more potential sources from which this income may be obtained.
Calculating the costs
Begin your financial plan by estimating both the annual costs of full-time graduate study, and all sources of financial support that you are certain to have. Your costs includes, tuition and other school fees, books as well as living expenses (rent, groceries, cell phone etc.). When calculating your potential sources of financial support, you should probably not consider any earnings from employment positions outside of the academic setting. Most graduate programs do not encourage part-time jobs outside of the program and most do not permit part-time enrollment. This is not always the case, especially if you have been working in a particular area for some time and are returning to part-time graduate studies in order to update your knowledge and credentials (check out employer subsidies for more on this). The cost of tuition for U.S. and Canadian graduate students differs significantly, so check the resources below to estimate your total costs for graduate school.
Sources of funding graduate school
There are actually many sources available to fund grad school costs, most of which are described below. Many will cover tuition, books and often living expenses, as well. Nearly all graduate students receive financial support from at least one of the following sources, but the percentage from each category varies widely across disciplines.
Scholarships, grants, bursaries and fellowships.
Scholarships, grants, bursaries and fellowships are essentially the same thing, in that none of them requires you to pay back any amount that you are awarded. They are usually very competitive and are awarded based on merit, especially grades. In some respects this is unfortunate, because undergraduate grades are not always the best predictor of success in graduate school. Check out the following resources below to determine which awards you may be eligible to receive.
Canada Scholarship Search - Each province and territory awards its own scholarships. Check out the one that you reside in for more information.
British Columbia: http://www.gov.bc.ca/bced/index.html
New Brunswick: http://www.gnb.ca/0000/index-e.asp
Newfoundland and Labrador: http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/
Nova Scotia: http://www.ednet.ns.ca/
Northwest Territories: http://www.gov.nt.ca/agendas/education/index.html
Prince Edward Island: http://www.gov.pe.ca/education/index.php3
Special note for U.S. students: Please note that in order to get federal financial aid, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The University or graduate program will use information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility to receive any sources of financial aid.
U.S. Scholarship Search
U.S. Scholarship Search for students wishing to study abroad
Unlike scholarships awarded by the government, another option may be private student scholarships, which are awarded by professional groups, banks and non-profit organizations. These awards vary in eligibility criteria and application deadlines. Many have citizenship restrictions and some must be held at a school within the student’s home state or province. This is important information to have before applying, because there is a good chance that you will be choosing between graduate programs located in regions far from each other. Also keep in mind that unless your have a large amount of money set aside, it is strongly recommended that you apply for as many grants, scholarships and fellowships that you are eligible to receive. Private scholarships tend to be very competitive, but if you think you may have a chance, then you should apply.
For the most part assistantships such as teaching assistantships (T.A.) and research assistantships (R.A.) require that you perform certain tasks, such as teach a class, perform certain duties on campus or assist professors in their work. Assistantships are excellent sources of funding, because they provide a steady paycheck, but more importantly because they give you experience within the field that you are studying. Although the salary will vary a great deal from one university to the next, in general, these types of positions generally carry a lighter workload and are better paying than many part-time jobs off-campus.
Tuition and other fee waivers
This type of financial support comes in the form of covering specific costs, such as your tuition and is usually provided by the graduate program in question. International students, for example, sometimes receive special consideration by receiving a student fee remission, in which they are charged academic rates as the same rate as a student with domestic citizenship. Some schools are more generous than others. It’s your responsibility to contact the financial aid office at your school for details and deadlines.
Unlike scholarships or other similar types of aid, loans are calculated based on financial need. They must be repaid, plus interest. Many students begin their financial planning for graduate school by assuming that loans will constitute the main part of their support. It might turn out this way for some graduate students because this is precisely the way that they planned it! It can be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Unfortunately, students sometimes fail to educate themselves about the many potential sources of financial support for which they can compete and find themselves having to borrow money for graduate school. Loans are usually easier to qualify for as a grad student than as an undergraduate, because in most cases, you will no longer be living at home. As an independent student, your assets and income are probably substantially lower than those of your parents, so your financial need will be much greater. It is important to make sure that your parents are not claiming you as a dependent for tax purposes.
There are 2 types of loans to consider:
Subsidized loans mean that the government will pay any interest incurred on your loan for the time that you are in school and often include a deferral period of up to 6 months after graduation. Most loans have a 10 to 30 years payment plan. Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need.
Unsubsidized loans mean that you are required to pay interest right from the time that you receive the loan. All students are eligible for this type of loan. Loan support does offer at least one advantage over some of the alternatives, such as T.A. and R.A., because they do not require any effort or dedication. Graduate students are often very busy and you may be glad that you don’t have to earn your money by correcting papers or spending hours washing test tubes as a research assistant.
Employment subsidies for education
This type of support comes from companies, firms or organizations, which encourage their staff to become better educated. Some companies will allow you to both work and study on a part-time basis, while others may grant you a leave of absence in order to pursue full-time studies. In either case, it is very likely that you will be asked to stay with the company in question for an agreed period of time (usually varies between 4 and 5 years). How much support you receive as well as the process by which you are reimbursed will vary considerably between companies, so it is really important that you are aware of all the restrictions and commitments that you are agreeing to prior to accepting this type of support.
Whatever your financial situation, remember to start searching for funding opportunities and applying for them as early as possible. Arranging for scholarships and grant applications can be quite variable, some requiring lengthy preparation, including letters of recommendation or letters of purpose. It is important to be organized and keep track of the various deadlines, as most awards are competitive and few exceptions are made for late applications. Also, some schools will automatically consider all their applicants for funding, while others require separate paper work. Don’t get caught by surprise.
Take a look at this article on Paying for grad school as well as the Financing Graduate School Section on our educational resource page for more links and resources on funding your graduate studies.
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