Going to grad school is a move that could really pay off professionally and financially, depending on the field you decide to go into. There's just one problem: It can be an expensive prospect. In some cases, it can be even pricier than your undergrad studies. That's because with grad school, you may be limited to specialized programs that aren't as widely available as your general bachelor's of arts or science degree. That means you may not have as much wiggle room on your tuition bills.
But fear not -- if you're serious about attending graduate school, there are different steps you can take to cover its cost. Here are a few to consider.
1. Work for a while and save up money
Though going directly from high school to college is a common practice, many graduates work a number of years before moving on to an advanced degree. If you're willing to put in some time in the workforce prior to grad school, you'll have a solid opportunity to save up money you can use to help pay your tuition. This especially holds true if you swallow your pride a little and move back home for a couple of years post-college -- that way, you'll get a real opportunity to pad your savings, what with not having to come up with rent.
2. Find an employer who will pay your tuition
Many companies have programs in place that allow employees to receive money for graduate studies. That's money they never have to pay back, provided they comply with the rules of the programs at hand. Usually, that means staying on board for a certain period of time following the receipt of that money. But if you're willing to commit to your employer, you may find that your company covers a large chunk of your grad school tuition -- or in some cases, all of it.
3. Snag a university job during your studies
Many graduate programs allow participants to lower their tuition costs by working during their advanced degrees. In some cases, that work involves helping to teach undergrad classes. In others, it means helping with research. It pays to see if such an arrangement is available where you're applying to grad school, because in addition to reduced tuition, you might also get a stipend to cover some of your living expenses.
4. Take out student loans
Despite your efforts to avoid student loans for grad school, if you need extra money to cover your costs, you may have no choice. Thankfully, just as federal student loans are available to undergrad students, so too are they available for graduate students. To apply, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA, but know this: You're limited to $20,500 in unsubsidized federal student loans per year, or $138,500 total in federal aid, of which no more than $65,000 can consist of subsidized loans. If these limits don't cover your costs, or you don't qualify for enough federal aid, you may have to apply for private student loans.
Private graduate student loans are less than ideal because they don't offer the same borrower protections as federal loans and the interest rates attached to them can be much higher. That said, if you have great credit, you might score a competitive rate on your private loans, thereby making them more affordable.
Grad school can be a solid investment in your future. And while paying for it may be a drag, if it leads the way to a lucrative career, it'll be worth it in the end.