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Six Ways to Pay for Grad School Without Taking Out a Loan

Jan 4, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

The national debt deal that passed this summer didn’t do graduate students any favors. Coming in July 2012, graduate and professional students will no longer be able to take out any subsidized federal loans.

These loans helped students keep debt down by allowing interest on loans to start adding up only after the student graduates from school. Now, all graduate students will see their interest start to calculate while they’re studying—and for some students, such as medical students, that could be a long time. It’s more important now than ever for graduate students to do everything they can to reduce their debt level while in school.

Here are a few ways you can minimize your debt burden—and pay for school without taking out a loan.
Become a TA

Students in Class



A TA, or teaching assistant, helps professors in the classroom. As a TA, you may coach students one on one or in small groups, help grade papers, or maybe even help teach a class. If you’re going for a doctoral degree, you may be able to get your tuition paid for as well as a small stipend for living expenses if you’re accepted as a TA.

Many graduate students pay for doctoral degrees in this way. If you’re not accepted in your first year, however, try again your second year—and use the time in between to get good grades, prove yourself, and make connections with professors who might consider hiring you.

Become a research assistant

Research assistant positions are another way many PhD students pay for school. As with teaching assistant positions, many schools offer full-tuition payments plus a small stipend for students with these jobs. You may find yourself working your way through your doctoral program with a series of research and teaching assistant fellowships.

When applying for graduate school, always investigate what research and teaching assistant fellowships are available. If your school does not offer these programs, you may wind up having to pay tuition out of pocket.

Apply for scholarships

There are scholarships out there for a wide variety of people—in almost every field. Individual schools often offer private scholarships, but there are also organizations, both public and private, that seek to fund college for select students.

FinAid’s scholarship database and the scholarship search section at CollegeBoard are both good places to start looking for scholarships in your field. If you’re involved in any community or religious organizations, check with them as well. Many corporations offer scholarships, and you may be eligible if you or a family member works for these companies—or maybe even if nobody you know does.

Get a work study job

Even if you can’t get a teaching or research assistant position, you may still be able to get a work-study job that takes the edge off your tuition payments—anything from working at the library to lifeguarding at the campus pool. The best jobs often fill up early, so always check with your school and apply as soon as you can.

Get an off-campus job

On-campus jobs are ideal, because your employers understand that you’re a student and they’ll have to accommodate your class and study schedules. Off-campus employers are often not as understanding. However, you may be able to make more money off-campus than on. Look around in your area for a job that will pay you well for the time you invest—and that can accommodate your class schedules.

Get your employer to pay

If you already have a job, consider asking your employer to pay for your degree. Many companies have programs that will reimburse employees for some or all of their tuition. There’s usually a catch—your employer may require you to sign a contract stating you’ll continue to work for them for a certain number of years after you earn your degree, for example, or you may have to maintain a certain GPA to qualify. But for many students, the trade-offs are worth it.

Paying for graduate school isn’t easy—and in summer 2012, it will get harder. If you’re planning to be in graduate school by then, be prepared. Start thinking about ways you can earn money to pay for school—without having to watch the interest accumulate while you study. If you do, your debt load upon graduation is likely to be a lot lighter.



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