Financial Aid, TuitionStudents

How to Pay for Grad School: The Basics

If you’ve decided grad school is something you are interested in, and you’re ready to plunge into more years of higher education, one of the first questions you’re likely asking yourself is “How on Earth am I going to pay for all this?” As if your undergraduate education wasn’t expensive enough, now you are posed with the debacle of how 2-3 years for a master’s degree, or 6+ years for a doctorate degree, can even be realistic.

grad school

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First, you should know that yes, grad school can be expensive, and as such continuing into graduate studies should be a decision that you should take seriously and give significant thought. If you’re on the fence, or even just exploring your education options, be sure to give our article “Is Graduate School Worth the Investment?” a read.

Second, you should know that if going to grad school is something you are seriously interested in, then there are definitely options to help make paying for grad school a viable reality. Let’s take a look at a brief look at a few of them.

Consider getting a job first

While going to grad school may seem exciting, especially if you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and learning, consider taking a brief break from higher education to find a job for the time being. The reason for this is that many employers offer tuition reimbursement for college and grad school courses, and if taking a break from college is something that is possible in your desired career field, then perhaps this may be a very financially wise decision to make.

Financial aid

There are a few things you should know about financial aid in grad school. First, filling out the FAFSA will no longer require you entering your parents’ income and tax information. In general, filing the FAFSA in grad school is a much less painful and time-consuming experience as it asks for a lot less information on your behalf.

Second, contrary to undergrad financial aid, grad students are not eligible for need-based federal grants such as the Pell Grant. Instead, student loans are the only form of available federal financial aid for grad students. However, the total amount of student loans that students can withdraw in grad school is generally quite a bit more than in undergrad. White most undergrad students’ loan borrowing limits are capped at certain thresholds depending on year of study (e.g. $5500 the first year, $6500 the second, etc.), most grad students can withdraw up to $20,500 per year.

While you may cringe at the idea of taking out even more student loans than you already have as an undergrad student, at least know that as long as you are a registered student, your student loans you have taken out as an undergrad will not enter their repayment period until you are no longer a student (i.e. have graduated from grad school).


As is the case to paying for undergraduate education, searching and applying for scholarships should definitely be part of your “paying for grad school” plan. Our article “Scholarships: Where to Look and How to Get Them” has some useful information to help point you in the right direction. Also, be sure to check back on our SchoolMoney scholarship page for information about our upcoming scholarships!

Many academic departments also offer scholarships for highly qualified grad student applicants, so be on the lookout for scholarship information on graduate programs’ websites as you do your research.

Department funding

Aside from federal student loans, a wonderful and loan-free way to cover the cost of graduate education is to seek out programs that offer funding through research and teaching assistantships. Securing funding through these means typically entails working for the department, and will usually cover the cost of your tuition plus a modest living stipend. If you secure a research or teaching assistantship, you can essentially get paid to go to grad school.

One way to find out if a grad program you are interested in provides research or teaching assistantships is by asking. While information may be posted on the website, funding can change from year to year, so it’s best to reach out to department faculty members to find out what funding might be available for the semester you plan to begin your graduate studies.

Paying for grad school is a reality

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are many viable ways to make paying for grad school a reality, and hopefully this article has provided you with ideas about ways to move forward with your research and planning.

For more general information and advice about increasing your chances of getting into grad school, be sure to read our article “Grad School: 8 Tips to Help Get You In”!

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.