Getting your master’s degree can be a great professional move. With a graduate degree, you’ll earn an average of $1,574 a week, compared to $1,334 for someone with a bachelor’s degree. You’ll be less likely to suffer from unemployment, too.
Of course, if you can earn a master’s degree without incurring any student loan debt, so much the better. And it’s definitely possible to get a master’s degree without debt. You don’t even have to be academically exceptional – though it doesn’t hurt. Scholarships, grants, fellowships, assistantships, employer reimbursement and work-study programs all offer a means to pay for graduate school that won’t come out of your own pocket.
Search for Free Money
It may be a little harder for graduate students to find scholarships and grants, but there are still plenty of opportunities for grad students to grab some free money for school. When you apply to graduate schools, make sure you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This should make you eligible for any scholarships, grants, or fellowships offered by your school. Talk to the financial aid office about any opportunities that you may need to prepare additional application materials for.
Look for scholarship, grant, and fellowship money from organizations other than your school, too. Use Unigo, GoGrad, FastWeb or Cappex to look for scholarship, grant, and fellowship opportunities funded by professional organizations, nonprofits, places of worship, and other institutions. You don’t need to pay back scholarships, fellowships, and grants, but some fellowships may require you to pursue research in a specific area. However, that’s not always true; fellowships often exist to allow talented students to focus on their academics without having to take time out to work or do research.
Work for the School
Many students fund their graduate education by working for the school, either as a graduate assistant or a work-study student, or even in more obscure jobs such as live model for the art department or tutor for student athletes. Graduate assistantships typically require you to work for your department in some capacity. Many graduate students work as teaching assistants, which might mean helping a professor or being fully responsible for teaching one or more courses on your own. Research assistant positions are also available at many schools. In return for your work as an assistant, you’ll typically get a full tuition waiver, health insurance, and some money for living expenses.
You can also earn money to go towards your education expenses in a work-study job. The federal work-study program provides undergraduate and graduate students with part-time jobs on campus. Some schools apply your earnings directly to your tuition, while others let you decide whether you want to spend the money on tuition or living expenses. You’ll usually be assigned to a position relevant to your field of study, if possible.
Get Help from Your Employer
If you’re working full-time, you may not want to quit working in order to go back to grad school. If you do, you’ll lose out on the money you could have made by working for those couple of years – and that will ultimately make your graduate degree even more costly.
Online masters programs may be the answer for prospective students who don’t want to quit working full-time to go back to school. Most online masters programs allow students to take classes whenever their schedule allows, as long as they meet homework deadlines. You can keep working and go back to school in your spare time. You can even get money from your employer to help you pay for it.
Many employers offer their employees tuition reimbursement for courses taken towards an undergraduate or graduate degree. There may be strings attached; for example, you may be required to commit to remaining with your employer for a certain number of years after you use the benefits. You may also be required to study a field relevant to your position. However, your employer may not be willing to pay all of your tuition costs – funding is often capped. You can fill the gap with scholarships and grants from your school or other organizations.
There’s no reason you need to pay for grad school. There are plenty of opportunities for graduate students to rake in scholarships, fellowships, and grants, or pay for grad school by working for the school. With the right strategy, you can earn your graduate degree free of charge – and that can make the degree even more valuable.