Graduate education offers a wealth of opportunities, but it’s also expensive. Average annual tuition for master’s programs at public colleges and universities in the United States is nearly $30,000 and at private schools nearly $40,000. That price tag often doesn’t include additional essentials like housing, books and supplies, food, and administrative fees. Outside the United States, tuition can range from free to comparable to U.S. schools. While financial aid and scholarships can help offset some of these costs, it’s important to consider whether you’re financially ready for grad school. Here are some important factors to keep in mind.
Attending graduate school for some may mean reducing their work hours or even leaving their job to pursue their degree. That can mean a major financial adjustment.
Depending on your program you may be able to work during school. Working full time while pursuing a graduate degree can be challenging but some programs are actually built around a full-time work schedule with classes offered during the evening and on weekends, or in some cases weeklong in-person residencies once a semester. This is especially true for certain types of master's degrees, like executive programs. Additionally, there are degrees that are either fully or partially online which provide some schedule flexibility. Attending grad school part-time while continuing to work full-time is becoming easier to achieve with the adoption of new technologies and pedagogical changes in higher education.
Financial Aid Opportunities
Many students rely on some form of financial aid to afford their graduate studies. Aid recipients should be aware that the amount of their award can vary by school. Given this, it’s important look carefully at the numbers before you accept your offer. Make sure you're clear on the details of your financial aid package as these may be assessed on an annual basis and flux from year to year.
Beyond the financial aid offered by your school, consider scholarships in your field. If you have worked as an Americorps service member or similar program, you may also be able to use education awards that are usually given upon completion of your service year.
If you’re currently working, it’s also worth determining if your company or organization offers Employer Tuition Assistance. These programs are typically managed through Human Resources and can include an award amount ranging anywhere from $500 to $40,000 a year. Organizations offering these programs are especially interested in your growth and bringing your learnings back to your work; it’s a great opportunity to integrate your education with your career path.
Another important consideration of your financial readiness to go to grad school is debt. If you’re like many people, you may have some personal debt, perhaps from undergraduate student loans, credit card spending, or even a major purchase like a car or a house. Some of these financial responsibilities can’t be put on hold during grad school, and you’ll have to work out a balance between your expected income during your studies, your anticipated financial aid, and the costs of covering existing debt and school simultaneously. In some cases, it may make sense for you to put off grad school temporarily and focus on paying down debt for a while so that you can undertake your studies in a more stable financial state.
Even if you have a comfortable income and manageable levels of debt, you may have other financial goals or constraints. For example, you may be planning to have a child, or caring for a relative, or saving to buy a home. If attending graduate school requires a move or regular commute, there may be additional costs to consider. As with any big financial decision, you’ll want to assess your budget, spending, and goals and determine whether it’s reasonable to bring grad school costs into the mix right now.
Investing in your future
While there’s no guarantee that grad school will equate to upward mobility, a graduate degree can be a path towards a higher paying career. The short-term financial burden of attending grad school may be worth it in the long run. That said, you’ll want to carefully consider the cost of going to graduate school alongside the earning potential of the career it may set you up for.
Ultimately, the decision to attend graduate school is an individual one and will involve you thinking about your long term goals as well as your current and desired finances. We hope naming these factors supports your financial literacy around grad school and helps you plan for your future.