How to Afford Grad School: 7 Ways to Help Keep It Manageable
According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center, estimated enrollment in graduate and professional degree programs in the Fall of 2021 eclipsed 2,860,000 students.1 Pair this with the countless others who have not enrolled in a program but are considering their options, and it’s safe to say you have company if you’re interested in attending grad school.
Similar to your undergraduate experience, there are a lot of factors you’re weighing. The overall cost and figuring out how to make it work financially is usually a big factor in the decision to go back to school. Many students looking to earn a graduate degree are often also balancing full-time work and family responsibilities—and that’s a lot to contend with.
To get some tips for managing grad school costs, we’ve asked graduate students to offer their advice for keeping graduate education affordable. This advice, paired with certain programs and offerings, may make earning a graduate degree much more manageable than you might think!
7 Ways to help make grad school affordable
Don’t let the cost of graduate school be the one thing that keeps you from exploring your options. While not every item on this list may apply to your personal situation, there are several options for keeping graduate school affordable worth looking into.
1. It’s ok to be price-conscious
Not every institution is going to put the cost of attendance front-and-center, but it’s not out of line to ask and approach your graduate school search with price in mind. The cost of attending graduate school will vary significantly depending on the program and the institution you attend. Don’t forget to consider the whole picture when weighing your options—will you have the flexibility to work while attending? If not, how will you cover living expenses?
Sarah Davis, a doctoral student and founder of Motherhood HQ, recommends considering online programs, as they can provide additional flexibility for managing your financial situation.
“In many cases, tuition costs for online programs are the same for in-state and out-of-state students,” Davis says. “This can provide you with the flexibility to take a job in a different city or to move to a place with a lower cost of living.”
Rasmussen University offers several Master’s degree programs that can be completed for just under $15,000.2 All of these programs feature online competency-based education courses, which can make it easier for you to manage your schedule, as you have greater control over how you pace your work throughout the course of a term.
2. Talk with advisors up front
Getting into contact with your preferred school’s advisors could provide an avenue for savings. Depending on the institution, an advisor may be able to assist you with identifying potential opportunities to earn transfer credits based on life experiences or other professional development work. These opportunities may be less common for graduate-level programs, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire.
“Reach out to your advisor and share a list of all your past certifications, courses and programs,” Davis recommends. “They may allow you to transfer in some credits, which will reduce the number of classes you need to take.”
3. Explore accelerated Master’s degree options
If you’ve yet to complete your undergraduate degree, it may be worth exploring “accelerated” options. Some schools offer students the opportunity to pursue a dual track, which allows them to swap certain undergraduate courses with graduate-level coursework. This provides a low-risk opportunity for students to get a feel for graduate-level coursework, as well as an opportunity to save on their graduate education.
Rasmussen University offers an accelerated Master’s pathway for several combinations of graduate and undergraduate programs. Students who choose this option can potentially save time and money should they pursue a Master’s degree.
4. Seek out employer assistance
Many organizations and companies offer tuition reimbursement or assistance as part of their standard employee benefits. This is something that can certainly shift the affordability calculus for prospective students.
“Find out if your company offers these opportunities,” advises Mark Suprenant, general manager of Bennett® Packaging. “Request information about eligibility requirements and application deadlines so you can plan accordingly.”
Joy Huber, founder of the Dose of Joy podcast, says she paid for half of her Master’s degree with employer assistance. While that’s clearly a big help, it’s important to understand if there are conditions that must be met to receive employer-based education benefits.
“I had to stay with my employer two years after graduating—which I did—or repay them,” Huber says.
Some companies only provide tuition assistance or reimbursement on specific programs, so it’s critical to talk with human resources to find out if the program you’re considering is covered.
5. Have a clear outcome in mind
Keeping up-front costs in mind—and minimized—is obviously important when considering affordability, but you should have long-term goals in mind as well.
When researching graduate programs, many said they found it helpful to have a clear outcome in mind prior to enrolling. Do you need the program to fulfill licensure requirements in your future career, as is the case with nurse practitioners? Is a certain educational track required for a promotion or the next phase of your career? If you don’t have a strong answer to questions like these, it may be best to pause and re-evaluate.
Knowing where you’d like to take your career can also influence how you evaluate your graduate school options.
“Consider your career goals,” Davis says. “Do you need the opportunities provided by more expensive programs, or will more affordable programs help you achieve your goals? This decision alone can easily cut your tuition costs in half.”
Dr. Patrick Capriola, founder of Strategies for Parents, believes getting clarity on your future career is inseparable from the question of affordability.
“The most important thing to consider is the relative affordability of your program when weighed against the salary you expect to earn when you finish,” Capriola explains. “How will you ensure a strong return on investment?”
6. Scale back expenses
We’re all familiar with the well-worn trope about broke college students surviving on ramen noodle packs and dollar menu fast food items. While that approach may make a dietician cringe, there is some value in embracing the thrifty spirit you most likely applied during your undergraduate experience.
A huge part of keeping grad school affordable is by first being mindful of your own personal expenses and seeking out ways to trim things down. Every dollar you can set aside for up-front tuition costs will save you on student loan interest payments.
“Personal budgeting is the cornerstone of financial success,” says Capriola. “Find a great budget template that you like and personalize it to your needs.”
Student discounts are another budgeting factor that might help you trim costs. These discounts can cover a lot of ground, including discounted fares on public transit, lower-cost streaming service bundles or even discounted car insurance.
7. Seek out scholarships and grants
All of the people we talked to agreed that researching scholarships and grants is essential. Some scholarships and grants are applicable only for certain types of programs, while others are awarded to students in specific circumstances or backgrounds.
“It’s important not to disqualify yourself from these options by skipping the application process or applying late,” Suprenant adds.
Many grants and scholarships come in smaller amounts, but they can add up quickly if you plan ahead, advises Michael Campbell, founder of The Speech Blog.
“Applying for grants with smaller award amounts added up to $2,000 in funding that many other students wrote off,” Campbell says.
Huber agrees it’s important not to lose sight of smaller scholarship opportunities, remembering one scholarship she earned for $1,000.
“Every little bit helped with what I had to pay out of pocket,” she says.
Ready to learn more about your potential graduate degree options?
Deciding to enroll in a graduate program is a big decision that requires a thoughtful approach. Now that you’re equipped with advice for keeping grad school affordable, are you ready to learn more about individual programs? Start with the Master’s degree program page to explore what Rasmussen University has to offer.
1“Current Term Enrollment Estimates Fall 2021,” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, November 18, [accessed March 2022], https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/CTEE_Report_Fall_2021.pdf
2Tuition for MBA, MHRM, and MHA programs is $205 per credit. Tuition for MPH is $205 per credit. Tuition for MSN program is $260 per credit; excludes MSN Nurse Practitioner specializations. Students in all programs must maintain continuous enrollment to remain eligible for the tuition pricing of $205/$260 per credit. A student who withdraws and re-enrolls will be required to pay the tuition price offered at the time of their re-enrollment. Students who receive the tuition price of $205 per credit cannot use any additional discounts, grants and/or scholarships. MSN students who receive the tuition price of $260 per credit may be eligible to use additional discounts, grants and/or scholarships. If a student needs to retake one or more courses in the degree program, the total cost of the program will exceed $15,000. MBA, MHRM & MHA Program cost breakdown: $9,840 in tuition + $2,460 in fees = $12,300 in program cost. MSN (excluding Nurse Practitioner specializations) Program cost breakdown: $12,480 in tuition + $2,460 in fees = $14,940 in program cost. MPH Program cost breakdown: $11,480 in tuition + $2,870 in fees = $14,350 in program cost. Program availability varies by campus and state; please see the Rasmussen University Catalog for details.
National Student Clearinghouse is a registered trademark of the National Student Clearinghouse non-profit corporation.
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