Grad school has you wondering how you’re going to pay for it all? Here are a few financial options, as well as their implications.

Full Funding (i.e., a free ride)
I once heard a professor say, “The hardest part about graduate school is getting in.” I would like to add that the hardest part about graduate school is getting fully funded. Fully funded programs are highly competitive, but well worth the effort. Some ask, “Should I wait a year or two before going to graduate school?” I would recommend that if you can’t be fully funded right out of your bachelor’s degree program, you might save yourself a lot of money by beefing up your test scores, letters of recommendation, and relevant experience during that “time off” of school. This may mean working as a lab manager or low-level analyst for a couple years.

Paying Your Own Way
A quick and dirty rule of thumb in assessing the quality of graduate programs is whether or not students pay their own way. This doesn’t always hold true, of course, but a trend exists that less competitive programs have less funding opportunities, scholarships, and grants available to students. Do your research about programs of interest by looking at their student outcomes: retention rate, job outcomes for graduates, etc. If a pay-your-own-way program leads to a high paying job, it may be worth it to fork over the cash and eat ramen noodles for a few years.

External Funding
Some lucky students are able to secure outside scholarships for their graduate work. These opportunities are just as competitive (if not more so) than getting into a fully funded program, but they give students much more freedom in choosing a program that is right for them. Sometimes faculty members really want to work with a given student, but because of budget issues, they have to reject well-qualified applicants. If a student has an external source of funding (e.g., a grant or scholarship), the budget issues no longer become a problem.

Working During Graduate School
Some graduate programs do not allow students to work outside of school, especially if those programs involve some sort of teaching or research assistantship that is a part-time job in and of itself. But if your program allows you to work while you’re in school, be aware that it may take you much longer to finish your education than students who do not work. You will have to decide if you can afford to buckle down and focus exclusively on your studies or if you are motivated enough to manage working (e.g., adjuncting a class or two) while attempting to write your dissertation.


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