How to Pay for a Master’s Degree: 8 Smart Tips to Help Manage the Cost
After years of hard work, you’re finally working in a field you love. Your career is so satisfying that now your biggest goal is to increase your expertise even further. Earning a Master’s degree is an option you have your eye on. Not only will it broaden your knowledge of your field, but it could also lead to advancement opportunities and take your career to new heights.
There’s just one problem: You’re not sure you can afford it. How to pay for a Master’s degree can be a tricky problem. You know that an advanced degree has the potential to level up your income—but in the meantime, you still have to juggle your full-time job and your commitment to your family. With all that going on, it’s understandable if you’re concerned about taking on additional student loans and adding more stress to your plate.
Earning a Master’s degree doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg, however. We spoke to advanced degree-holders who found smart, creative ways to make paying for an advanced degree more manageable. Take a look at these eight tips to see if a Master’s degree could be in your future after all!
8 Smart tips to help make paying for a Master’s degree manageable
1. Prepare in advance
Earning your Master’s degree is a big decision that requires plenty of thought. While you’re hashing out the pros and cons, researching programs and planning your future career path, you might also want to start saving up for your tuition bill.
Having some money saved can be a weight off your shoulders as your enter a graduate program, even if it’s not enough to cover your full tuition. That extra cash could come in handy when it’s time to buy books, cover an enrollment fee or simply set your mind at ease if there’s a tight month in your budget.
2. Choose your school wisely
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s quite a bit of price variability in Master’s degree programs—and it helps to be a conscientious shopper.
“Tuition for schools varies a lot, and from my experience talking to other graduate Nursing students, many of them just went with the first school that accepted them,” says Thomas N. Uzuegbunem, RN and editor of Nurse Money Talk.
Jumping at the first program to accept you may not always be wise, however. There are plenty of accredited, well-regarded programs that cost less than those at a “brand name” school. Remember that you have a choice in which Master’s program to attend. It’s a decision that can make a big impact on the affordability of grad school. If you’re considering attending a big-name school, it’s worth weighing whether paying a premium for that name will bring a better return on investment than a comparable, less-expensive option.
3. Use the financial aid office
Your school’s financial aid office exists to help students find affordable ways to pay for their education. Don’t be shy about reaching out for help! You might receive an initial scholarship offer based on academic grades or financial need, but the assistance doesn’t stop there.
The financial aid office should be able to assist you with securing scholarships, financial assistance programs and applying for federally-subsidized student loans. Some of these may be available through the school itself, while others will be offered through federal programs or independent organizations. Your school’s financial aid office has the resources to point you in the right direction.
4. Apply for grants and fellowships
Grants and fellowships are a special type of funding provided to students for pursuing specific research or academic interests. They’re a common form of financing for graduate students that can pick up a large portion of the tab for earning a Master’s degree, if you know where to look.
“I recommend aspiring grad students look for fellowships and scholarships offered by organizations in their industry,” says Ky Trang Ho, business and financial writer and author of Humans of Shark Tank. “Professional organizations in your niche should have a list of them.”
5. Talk to your employer
Many organizations are excited to see their employees pursuing advanced education—so much so, that they might help foot the bill. “Ask your current employer if they will assist you in paying for your graduate school. Many of them will do so if you commit to working for them after graduating,” Uzuegbunem says.
Even if your company doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement plan in place already, it’s worth reaching out to your manager. Outline the ways your Master’s-level education will benefit the company. You could become the pioneer who persuades your employer to offer education assistance!
6. Attend school part-time
Earning a Master’s degree often looks different from the typical undergrad experience. Graduate programs expect their students to have other commitments like full-time jobs and families. That’s why programs often have plenty of flexible, part-time options that allow students to continue working and spread tuition costs out over time.
“Going part-time has allowed me to cash flow my tuition because it makes my semester bills cheaper and it allows me to keep working full-time,” Uzuegbunem says. You may be in a hurry to have your new degree in hand, but taking a slower pace could be the key that makes your tuition bill manageable.
7. Explore working as a teacher’s aide or research assistant
If you want to commit your full attention to school without worrying about your day job, finding on-campus work as a teacher’s aide or research assistant could pay off big. “I was given full tuition and a small stipend (enough to cover rent) in exchange for serving as a teaching or research assistant each semester,” says Alexandrea Ravenelle, assistant professor and author of Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy.
You might need an additional part-time job to pay your other necessary expenses, but it could be worth it if your current job is stressful or requires long workdays. Keep in mind that research and teaching positions are competitive in many graduate programs and might not be available for all programs. Be prepared to show persistence if you want to land one of these coveted jobs to pay your tuition bill.
8. Investigate loan repayment programs
Taking out student loans probably isn’t your first choice, but the reality for many students is that it’s the only option. If you’ve exhausted the other tips on this list and still find that you need loans to close the gap, researching loan repayment programs is your next step.
“My husband had all of his medical school loans repaid through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for pursuing a career in biomedical research instead of private practice,” says Ho. Seek out similar opportunities through professional organizations in your field, and remember that persistence pays off. “He applied for it three times. So don't lose hope if you don't get it on your first try.”
Your Master’s degree is within reach
Graduate programs don’t have to leave you saddled with student loan debt. Now that you know how to pay for a Master’s degree thanks to this budget-friendly advice, it’s time to start looking for the program that’s right for you.
Learn more about Rasmussen College’s Master’s degree programs that can help you achieve your ultimate career goals!