How To Pay For Grad School- your ultimate guide

Are you planning to go to a grad school or struggling with the cost? Fret not, we have got it sorted for you. This article talks about the various ways like Employer Funding, Traditional ways, Work for school, personal savings and others. It is also a guide to finding the best way to pay for it.

Updated by Shrestha Dey on 20th February 2020

Earning a master’s degree is a great way to boost your career. But, the cost that comes with pursuing a degree in a graduate school can be baffling. Whether you are a prospective graduate student, an already enrolled grad student or a parent of a future student, it is important to be well informed about the best ways and avenues to pay for your graduate program. This will help you prepare well in advance for the program. In this article, we shall discuss in detail the various options that could help you achieve your ambitions and goals. 

Table of Contents:

Employer Funding

One of the most viable options is Funding by your Employer. There are many employers willing to offer tuition assistance programs to employees interested in pursuing graduate program in return for staying for some predetermined years of employment with the company post completion of their grad course. 

Traditional Ways : Scholarships & Grants and Student Loan

Scholarships and grants, unlike student loans do not need to be repaid. These are awarded based on a student’s need or merit. In case of need based grants and scholarships, students need to apply through FAFSA. For merit based scholarships and grants, colleges may have their own forms and procedure to measure merit. This is whereas, not the case with student loans. We shall discuss this in detail below.

Scholarships & Grants

One of the best ways to pay for your tuition fee is through Grants & Scholarships. They do not need to be repaid. While scholarships are mostly merit-based, grants are Need-based. It is important to note that multiple scholarship money can be clubbed together to pay off for your grad school expenses. 

The sources that award scholarships to graduate students are: 

  • Private organisations

  • Graduate School

  • Graduate Program Department

Private organisations include large corporations, private organisations, religious groups, small businesses etc. while some of these are merit based others are based on factors like cultural background, personal interests etc.

Apart from Private organisations, graduate schools also award scholarships based either on merit or need. You have to fill up a form provided by the grad school in order to be eligible for the scholarship. The scholarships are awarded on academic performance and individual background.

In some colleges, the departments offer scholarships too. These scholarships are tailored to your field of study and have the smallest pool of competition.

Student Loans

If you are not able to secure scholarships or grants that can help you pay for your graduate school program, you can always opt for student loans. Sometimes, when you can’t secure enough secure scholarships and grants to pay for your grad program, you can combine scholarships and student loan to pay for the programme. Following are the best kind of student loans that you can opt for:


  • Stafford Student Loan: Stafford loan is a federal student loan with a fixed rate of interest available to graduate students who attends at least half time of their graduate programme. Stafford loans offer $20.500 per year with an aggregate limit of upto $1,38,500 (this will include the loan taken during your undergraduate studies). It is important to note that interest starts accruing when in school. However, the repayment starts only after 6 months of grace period. In order to be eligible for Stafford Student Loan, the borrower must be a US citizen, a permanent resident or an eligible non citizen. Stafford students loan is applied through FAFSA


  • Graduate Plus Loan: Graduate plus loans are meant for students applying for graduate programs and have a fixed interest rate. There’s no limit to the amount that can be borrowed. However a good credit score and proof of income is a must in order to qualify for graduate plus loan. Only a grad student or a professional student enrolled at least for half time is eligible for graduate plus loan. Interest starts accruing the moment the loan is disbursed. In order to be eligible for a graduate plus student loan, you need to submit a filled up FAFSA form


  • Private Loan: Private student loans are offered by various establishments like the banks, credit unions and other financial companies. Unlike federal loans,private loans offer both variable and fixed interest rates. Repayment for private loans starts in school. However, it is easier to get a higher amount than federal loans offer with better interest rates if you have a good credit score. In case your credit and income history is limited, you might consider applying with a cosigner to get low interest rates.

Work for School - Assistantships

High need field of studies like nursing or teaching needs continuous manpower. In case you’re in pursuing a grad program in these high need field, chances are you’ll be eligible for an assistantship. Assistantship is based purely on your academic performance. There are 4 domains where you can assist namely,

  • Research Assistant : Research assistants assists with the departments research projects in exchange for free tuition and a monthly stipend for food and rent.

  • Teaching Assistant: assists with teaching undergrad students in classes in exchange of stipends and either a full or partly tuition waiver

  • Service Assistants: Graduate assistants that assist with administrative roles for faculty and staff of the department. For example, students could take up a role in student services office

  • Resident Assistants: Resident assistants live in dorms and assists undergraduates in return for free room and boarding or tuition.

Personal Savings 

If you are someone who has a good amount of personal savings, your grad studies is a good area for investing your savings. In cas, you want to use a part of it or the entire amount make sure you have a proper budget for every year in hand. Include monthly expenses like rent, phone bill, transportation cost etc. Seek help from a financial advisor to help you with a proper budget so that you do not have to struggle later.

Side Gigs: Freelancing, Tutoring, Blogging and Social Media

These days there are a lot of side gigs that could help you earn to pay for your grad school program. Below given are few options to explore 


As a graduate student, you can take up online freelancing like video editing, photography, social media management, part time modelling, content writing etc to help partially pay for your tuition fee. First step is to zone in your field of interest and expertise and then look out for opportunities.


There is always a high demand for graduate students for the purpose of tutoring undergrad and high school or even younger students. Grad students majoring in Mathematics and English have a lot of scope in this field. Tutoring is a great way to earn which could help you in paying off your grad tuition fee.

Blogging and Social Media

If you’re internet savvy and have something good to share with the world, you can either use social media platforms like youtube and instagram to share interesting videos and stories. On the other hand if you are good with words and can articulate thoughts on paper well, you can opt for blogging. Youtube, Instagram and Blogging are great ways to earn fast money which could be really helpful in paying off for your graduate program.

Steps to finding the best way to pay for Graduate School

If you are planning to take up a grad program and have no exact idea as to how to go about it, these  following steps will help you plan for your program better:

  • Most scholarships and grants have a limited amount to award. Make sure to apply early as acquiring grants and scholarships for graduate programs are highly competitive. Make sure to fill up and submit your FAFSA as early as possible so that you are left with ample amount of time to do your research, personal essays and scout for recommendations

  • It is suggested to perform a Cost Benefit Analysis before you start applying for your preferred colleges. For the CBA, add up all your expenses including your tuition fee, transportation, family expenditure, food, rent, health insurance , loan repayments and all other recurring payments. Then subtract the money you would get from grants, scholarships, work study etc. finally take the resulting amount and compare it to future potential earnings. This will give you a fair idea of the debt that has to be repaid

  • Compare the funds that you would receive from the colleges that you have applied to. You can always negotiate with the grad school’s student aid office in case you do not receive sufficient funds for your graduate program

In the end there is no one-size fits-all solution to how to prepare and pay for grad school. It is ultimately a personal decision depending upon your future aspirations and present financial condition. Make sure you do your research well about future career prospects and student loan repayment options before deciding on the program and graduate school.