How to Pay for Grad School (And Not Go Broke)

Once you’ve earned your undergraduate degree, you have a couple of options; you can head out and join the workforce, or you can jump right back into school and pursue your graduate degree. Some people even opt to work for a few years before going back to get their masters. Whatever stage of life you’re in, the biggest question on your mind is likely how to pay for grad school and not go broke. Thankfully, with the right information behind you, it’s not as daunting as it may seem and there are multiple ways to fund your grad school education

Money You Don’t Have to Repay

When you start looking for how to pay for grad school, look for funds you don’t need to pay back. This could include family assistance, savings, grants, fellowships and assistantships, scholarships, and more. The main benefit of each of these is that you will not accrue any interest from using them and you won’t have to pay them back after you graduate. This can save you a lot on loan payments in the future. Here are a few suggestions on where to find money that you don’t need to repay.


Some people may choose to spend a year or two working after their undergraduate degree, both as a break from school and as a way to save up some money for their graduate program. Whatever you decide to do, an important thing to remember when deciding how to pay for grad school is that you should space out your savings over the course of your graduate education— even if it means taking out a small loan to cover the remainder. You should always hold on to some of your savings just in case of an emergency. You never know when sickness or injury could strike and it’s best to be prepared.

Family Assistance

You may or may not have to pay this back depending on the arrangement you make with your family members. However, it’s pretty awesome if your family is willing and has the means to help you pay for your graduate education. It may not be an option for everyone, but it’s worth it to ask.


These are need-based and there is no requirement to pay back grants that you receive unless they are conditional and the conditions are not met. As a graduate student, you can say goodbye to Federal Pell Grants, as they’re usually just for undergrads. However, there are grants that are based on project completion from the government, state, university, and private organizations. Speak with your professors about the types of grant available and check with the organizations listed above to see if any of your work could be eligible for a grant.


If you have unique work or have a high academic achievement, then scholarships are the way to go for how to pay for grad school. Honestly, even if you’re not sure if you will qualify or not, you should always look into scholarships. So many scholarships go unclaimed each year, simply because no one shows up to get them. Show up. Get the scholarship. Make your life easier.

You can find scholarships for graduate school using resources like FastWeb, GoGrad or Scholly. Check with your financial aid department and graduate department as well for their suggestions on what other students may have used in the past.


If you’re wondering how to pay for grad school, and then some, an assistantship is the way to go. Whether you become an RA (research assistant) or a TA (teaching assistant) to one of your professors, an assistantship can either provide you with an income or give you reduced tuition fees. In an assistantship, you typically work around 15-20 hours per week with one of your professors. If you swing it right, you may even get paid to do research on your thesis or dissertation subject. Win-win.


These are similar to scholarships in that they are awarded on an academic basis. Fellowships are typically awarded for specific graduate and post-graduate academic projects and are extremely prestigious. Some examples include the Fullbright and Marshall programs. They can cover a significant portion of your tuition fees and living expenses if you’re able to snag one of these coveted awards.

Graduate Resident Assistant

Outside of your academic life, colleges typically want mature and responsible students (and who better than you?) to be RAs for younger students to enforce campus rules. Taking a GRA position usually provides you with discounted or free room and board. Check with your university housing office to find out more.

Employer Assistance

For an out-of-the-box approach for how to pay for grad school, you could turn to your employer. Perhaps you’ve been in a job for a number of years but know that there are specific skills you are lacking that could help you contribute more to your company. This is the case for many in the business world who are interested in furthering their education through an MBA. Some employers have an established system to reimburse tuition contingent upon certain work requirements. Even if you’re not sure, it can be worth it to check. In a survey by The Society for Human Resource Management, they found that 58% of employers in a 550 employee poll has some form of graduate school tuition reimbursement.

Just be aware that if there isn’t a program, you will have to provide some pretty compelling evidence as to why you need to go back to school, and more importantly, why the company should foot the bill. However, paying for grad school in this way is very economical.

Federal Student Loans

Your second option, when it comes to how to pay for grad school, is to turn to federal student loans. These loans are almost always a better option than private loans because they usually offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans once you graduate. Graduate student loans are also different than undergraduate loans because they are offered in larger amounts, typically have a higher interest rate, and may have different repayment terms that undergraduate loans. Here are a few federal aid ideas to look into for graduate school.


Before you can get any federal student loans or student aid you must apply for your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Fill it out as soon after October 1st as you can. Disbursements are given on a first-come-first-served basis. If you remember filling out your FAFSA from your days as an undergraduate student, the only real change is that you will no longer need your parent’s financial information to fill out the FAFSA. Congratulations, you’re an adult.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Unfortunately, as a graduate student, you are no longer eligible for subsidized student loans from the federal government. However, you can still get unsubsidized loans. The only difference between the two is that the government covers the interest on subsidized loans until you graduate, whereas unsubsidized loans accrue interest immediately, even if you’re still in school. Making interest-only payments while you’re in school, if you are able to swing it, will really help you keep your balance down come graduation.

For Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans, you can only borrow a max of $20,500 per year to cover tuition and living expenses and a max of $138,500 for the duration of your graduate school degree. If you’re entering the healthcare field these limits are raised to $41,167 per year and up to $224,000 for the maximum limit. When considering how to pay for grad school, this might seem like a great way, however, it’s still important to borrow the minimum amount you need to get by. Remember, even if you don’t finish school, get sick, or are unable to find a job after graduation—you still have to pay back your student loans.

Federal Perkins Loan

Another loan to consider when paying for grad school is the Federal Perkins Loan. These loans offer up to $8,000 in financial aid per year with a max borrowing amount of $60,000. They currently have a 5% fixed interest rate and you have up to nine months following your graduation before you must begin to pay them back.

Graduate Plus Loan

When you’re an undergraduate student, your parents can take these loans out on your behalf to help you pay for school. Now that you’re “adulting,” you’ll have to take these loans out on your own. There are a few stipulations for Graduate Plus Loans including:

  • You can’t borrow more than the cost of tuition
  • You must undergo and pass a credit check
  • There is a loan fee for each disbursement
  • Loans are deferred until six months after you graduate

State and University Aid

Other forms of financial aid may be available through your individual state or through your university. Talk to your specific department about school aid as well as your university’s financial aid office. They can provide you with more information regarding possible state-sponsored aid and university tuition assistance.

Private Student Loans

When you’re looking for how to pay for grad school, private student loans tend to have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment options. However, they can be a useful resource, especially if you find yourself in the middle of a semester and need more funds. Getting a small personal loan can help you in paying for grad school expenses you may not have anticipated, and unlike other student aid, you can apply for a personal loan at any time.

Quick Tips on How to Pay for Grad School

Saving money and applying for student aid are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to paying for grad school and reducing your overall debt upon graduation. Here are some quick tips that will help you use your savings and student loans wisely so you can eat more than ramen once you graduate.

  • Make a Budget—Keep track of your money and don’t overspend on things you don’t need. Apps like Mint and EveryDollar can help you see where your money is going every month.
  • Get Organized—School, scholarship, grant, and loan applications all take time and effort. Set aside time and organize the necessary documents and time you need to get it all done.
  • Consider the Cost—Make sure you really weigh the cost of attending a graduate program. Will you increase your earning potential or job options after graduation? Will you be able to pay back your student loans? How long will it take you to pay them back? These are all important factors to consider before you jump into a graduate program.
  • Apply Early—The earlier you apply for graduate school, scholarships, and your FAFSA the more consideration you’ll receive.
  • Only Borrow What You Need—No, you don’t need to go to Mexico for Spring Break, and you don’t need a new car. Spend your time studying and improving your skills and live like the poor graduate student that you are.

Graduate school is a great opportunity to expand your education and improve your skills. Don’t let worries of how to pay for grad school get in the way of your studies. If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your credit to get approved for student loans, or if you just need a personal loan to help you during the semester, check out Lift Credit today and see how we can help you in paying for grad school.

Apply for your quick & easy installment loan today!

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