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How to Pay for Graduate School

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a Master’s degree (as of August 2023) is $65,134. Rates vary widely by type of school (private vs public), program, and degree type.  

A four-year degree from a pharmacy school in California could cost you between $150K and $250K, while completing medical or PA school could cost you up to $300K and $90K, respectively.  

Thus, when preparing for graduate school, an essential part of the process is creating a solid plan to finance your education. 

Consider Costs and ROI 

First, determine the cost of a degree in your particular field and compare prices between programs on your list of potential schools. Be sure to look beyond tuition and also consider other expenses such as living expenses (including rent/utilities), books/supplies, transportation, and dependent care.  

Next, consider your return on investment (ROI). How does the average salary for careers in your chosen field compare to the cost of your degree? How do career outcomes for graduates of a particular program compare to the cost of that program? 

Before you even begin planning how you will pay for graduate school, you want to ensure that your potential salary and chances for success in your chosen field far outweigh the cost of your education. 

Apply for Grants, Scholarships, and Fellowships 

Apply for grants, scholarships, and fellowships before turning to loans to finance your education. This is because, unlike a loan, these other aid forms do not need to be paid back. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need. In contrast, scholarships and fellowships are based on merit and other factors such as volunteer work, field of study, cultural background, and career objectives. 

Scholarships can be further broken down into those offered within a school and external scholarships. A fellowship is unique because it often involves a research commitment in exchange for the award. 

First, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which qualifies you for state and federal funding.  

“Make sure you stay on top of the FAFSA deadlines,” said the Admissions Team from Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). “Each university provides you with a unique school code that you enter on the form so that the report goes out to every school you’re applying to.” 

Next, look into funding options for all your potential schools. These can usually be found in that school’s website’s Admission & Aid section. 

For example, on KGI’s website, you’ll find a complete breakdown of scholarships and other types of aid offered by the school’s various programs, along with a listing of external scholarship databases and currently available scholarships.  

“Sometimes students disregard external scholarships from big foundations,” the KGI Admissions Team said. 

Students often don’t apply because they assume these scholarships are very competitive. 

“Don’t give up so easily,” the Admissions Team said. “Search for external scholarships that are pertinent to your interests or your background, such as women in science. If you meet the criteria, apply for it. You might get it.” 

Finally, you can qualify for full and partial scholarships by serving your country through the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps (a network of national service programs), and the military. Go here to learn about the current benefits offered through the GI Bill. 

Determine If Your Employer Offers Tuition Assistance 

Find out if your employer offers tuition assistance. If you work in healthcare or the life sciences, obtaining an advanced degree in a relevant field would make you an even more valuable asset to your company. These fields are changing rapidly, requiring fresh skills and knowledge. 

In a study by the Lumina Foundation, employers reported a 144 percent ROI on tuition assistance programs. 

Work Part-Time While Attending School 

While pursuing your graduate degree, working part-time can help cover your expenses while reducing the debt burden. Most schools offer teaching assistantships and work-study opportunities, which enable you to earn income while staying close to campus, immersing yourself in campus life, and remaining dedicated to your studies. Additionally, many schools offer paid internships, where you will gain hands-on experience in your field and make valuable connections that may lead to full-time employment. 

Make a Budget 

Once you know how much money your degree will cost—minus how much you receive through scholarships, grants, savings, and other forms of aid—make a budget. Determine precisely how much money you will need monthly to cover tuition, supplies, and all other expenses. 

“At KGI, we offer advisory sessions where we will help you with your budget,” the Admissions Team said. “You should account for living expenses but also consider things you’re not changing—for instance, if you decide to stay in your current living situation rather than moving. Don’t take out loans you don’t need. That’s part of being a responsible borrower.” 

Fill in the Gaps With Loans 

You can borrow loans to cover any remaining gaps after determining your budget and utilizing all other options for paying for graduate school. Loans fall into two main categories: federal and private. 

  • Federal: Consider federal loans–issued by the government—before private, as they tend to have lower interest rates. Federal loans also offer income-based repayment programs and loan forgiveness for certain professions.
  • Private: Private loans are offered by private lenders such as banks, credit unions, and online lenders. While interest rates tend to be higher, you can get an interest rate as low as 3% with solid credit. Many lenders do offer deferment programs during times of unemployment or financial hardship. 

Here, you can learn more about private loans, various types of federal loans, and how to apply. 

For an Excellent ROI, Consider KGI 

If you are pursuing a career in healthcare, biotech, or applied life sciences, consider KGI. You can rest assured that your money (and time) is well spent here. KGI alums go on to work for top companies in the field, including Amgen, Gilead Sciences, and CVS Health. After just one year, the average annual income for alums is $80,250, which rises to $158,333 after ten years.  

In KGI’s Master of Business and Science (MBS) program, 100% of graduates either start jobs or pursue postgraduate work within six months of graduation. 58% of MBS students secure employment before graduation! 

Most importantly, you will significantly impact as you discover and deliver drugs to treat debilitating conditions, engineer solutions to global health issues, and develop innovative ways to treat underserved patient populations. 

Go here to learn how to efficiently and accurately navigate the financial aid process so you can make your dream a reality. Contact us here if you have any questions or are ready to start!