Graduate Student
Financial Aid Guidebook
Expert Advice for All Grads Returning to College Including Veterans, Disabled Students, Women, LGBTQ & MBA Seekers

Graduate school is a time when students can focus on their academic interests and build nuanced skillsets that not only increase their knowledge, but also throw open the doors of career possibilities. But before any of that can happen, prospective grad students have to figure out how to pay for their educations. Unless a student is able to find financial aid, this could mean taking on substantial debt to fulfill their goals. At a time when the New America Education Policy Program reports that the average graduate student debt sits at $57,600, finding ways of offsetting costs is of critical importance. Keep reading to learn about numerous scholarships, how to calculate the return on investment for prospective degrees, and what our expert has to say on the subject.

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/pell

Funding Your Graduate Studies:
Search Scholarships & Find Resources

LGBTQ Scholarships & Financial Aid

LGBTQ rights have expanded significantly in the last few decades, but this student population is still traditionally underrepresented in higher education due to fewer students attending college in the first place. The Point Foundation reports nearly one in three LGBTQ high school students drop out due to harassment, abuse or not feeling accepted. Getting LGBTQ students to college and providing them with support systems and funding is crucial to the expanded input and impact this population.

There are lots of scholarships and funding opportunities available, including support for individuals who identify as allies of the LGBTQ community.

$1,000

July 30

Open to female black graduate students who are 40 years of age or older and identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.

Gamma Mu Foundation

Varies

March 31

GMF provides annual scholarships to gay men who are under the age of 35 and are admitted to a college or university for the awarding year.

Women in Medicine

$5,000

February 1

This organization provides four scholarships to women medical students studying at allopathic, osteopathic, or naturopathic schools who are members of the LGBTQ community. Recipients need to attend a conference in Burlington, VT to receive their awards.

Bread & Roses Community Fund

Up to $20,000

November 1

In honor of Jonathan Lax, this one-time scholarship award is provided to gay men who are either from the greater Philadelphia area or attending a graduate school in that region.

The Association of LGBTQ Journalists

$5,000

May 31

Awarded to graduate journalism students, applications need to include examples of previous journalistic work as well as a response piece to a news story prompt on an LGBTQ topic.

National Women’s Studies Association

$500

Varies

This award is made to master’s or doctoral level students whose research focuses on LGBTQ studies and is in line with the mission of the NWSA.

National Organization of Gay and Lesbian
Scientists and Technical Professionals

$5,000

First Saturday in June

NOGLSTP provides two annual scholarships of $5,000 to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in STEM-related topics who are either LGBTQ or an active ally of this community.

Point Foundation

Varies

January 30

Developed as the National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund, the Point Foundation provides scholarships based on financial need to LGBTQ students who are out. Those attending community college, trade schools, or online schools are not eligible.

Queer Foundation

$1,000

February 14

Awarded to LGBTQA high school students who win the foundation’s annual essay contest on queer studies. The collected essays are then used to create a “queer-the-curriculum” program for high schools throughout America.

American Psychological Association

$10,000

March 1

Created to further the public’s understanding of homosexuality and sexual orientations, the APA awards this grant to doctoral-level students in behavioral or social science programs.

Veteran’s Scholarships & Financial Aid

In many cases, the women and men serving our country go straight into the military upon graduating high school, making it vitally important to provide funding for this population when they are transitioning back to civilian life and finding a career path. Numerous GI Bills for grad school exist alongside private scholarships, making it easy for these brave students to get help in furthering their educations.

The most popular options are GI Bills. Two different types exist currently: the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty is open to veterans with at least two years of active duty under their belts and provides up to 36 months of educational funding. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, full-time students are eligible to receive $1,789 per month, or nearly $64,000 over the span of three years.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill is available to veterans or active service members with at least 90 days of aggregate active duty completed after September 10, 2001. The Yellow Ribbon program also operates under this bill and can be used for tuition and fees for in-state students at public schools. Conversely, the general Post 9/11 GI Bill will also provide up to $21,970 per academic year for veterans or active members who wish to attend a private or foreign school, or a state school as a non-resident.

Both of these bills have enabled active members and veterans to continue their educations at the graduate level and translate existing skills into meaningful careers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 160,000 active and former service members were taking advantage of GI Bills as of the 2011-2012 academic year, with marked growth in the previous years suggesting a continued upward trend.

GI Bills are far from the only funding sources available to service members, with a range of public and private foundations, institutes, corporations, and universities offering significant scholarships and grants.

American Veterans

$1,000 each year

April 15

This scholarship was designed to provide funds to honorably discharged veterans who have exhausted funding provided by their GI bill but still have outstanding tuition costs to cover. The application requirements include a short essay.

Grantham University

Tuition Discount

With Application

Rather than providing a lump sum, qualifying service members receive a $75 per credit hour scholarship for graduate courses as well as a textbook and software grant.

Georgetown University

$2,000

Spring

Available to veterans taking at least six credits per semester in a program housed within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Preference is given to students studying topics related to national security.

National Board for Certified Counselors

$8,000

Varies

NBCCF created this scholarship to encourage veterans to consider a career in professional counseling to serve their fellow veterans. Applicants must be enrolled in a CACREP-accredited program at the master’s level to be considered.

U.S. Department of Defense

Varies

Varies

Veterans interested in pursuing a teaching career may qualify for this government financial assistance program. In addition to applying, applicants must spend one semester serving a school or community in a high-need area.

Japanese American Veterans Association

$1,500

April 1

This scholarship is open to service members or dependents of those who served in numerous battalions or combat teams (listed on the eligibility requirements) and sustained injuries during their service.

Military Order of the Purple Heart

Varies

January 27

Awarded based on financial need, the MOPH scholarship is open to veterans who received the Purple Heart as well as their spouses, children, or grandchildren. Recipients must be enrolled on a full-time basis to qualify.

University of Maryland University College

Varies

Varies

Available to volunteer caregivers of military service members who have been critically injured while serving their country, this scholarship can be used for any degree program.

Blind Veterans Association

Varies

April 17

Spouses, children, and grandchildren of military veterans who were blinded or visually impaired during their time of service qualify to apply for this scholarship, which can be awarded up to four times.

Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association

$2,500

April 15

Made available to both active duty military members and veterans, this scholarship recognizes learners who were injured during their time in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Air Force Aid Society

$1,500

March 10

Awarded to spouses of active members of the Air Force who accompany them to overseas locations. This scholarship can also be renewed.

Military Scholar

$2,000

February 17

This organization awards 700 scholarships to children of military families in order to assist with educational costs.

Army Aviation Association of America

Varies

May 1

Current members of AAAA or individuals somehow related to a current/deceased member are eligible to receive this funding, provided they’ve been accepted to an accredited college or university.

Pat Tillman Foundation

Varies

March 1

This need-based scholarship is meant to cover tuition, fees, books, and living expenses and is open to spouses and dependents as well as active military and veterans.

Veterans United Foundation

Up to $20,000

October 15

Available to spouses or children of a deceased veteran who are willing to share personal memories of their military relative to the Veterans United Foundation.

Women’s Scholarships & Financial Aid

Although women now constitute nearly 58 percent of all first-time master’s students across the board, according to research by the Council of Graduate Schools, their participation in select degree programs still remains far lower than their male counterparts. In areas of public administration and health sciences, their numbers fly up to 77 percent, while STEM fields still sit between 25 and 32 percent.

Across the board, the most popular master’s degrees for women are still largely rooted in business, education, and nursing, the National Center for Education Statistics reports. For the 2012-2013 academic year, the top three degrees earned were business administration (11.4 percent), education (5.1 percent), and social work (4.2 percent). Six of the seven remaining programs in the top 10 were also related to education, with nursing placing ninth (2.1 percent).

When it comes time to find graduate-level funding, women can typically seek out both general and degree-specific options.

American Association of University Women

$20,000

December 15

Developed to support women looking to advance their careers after time out of school. Applicant’s bachelor degrees must have been completed before June 2012.

All Women in Media

$2,000

Summer

Awarded to female students pursuing any graduate level degree who are prepared to write an essay on a suggested topic and four blog posts for AWM.

Lifetime Adoption Foundation

Varies

Rotating

Made available to birth mothers who put children up for adoption, this scholarship requires verification of the adoption and a 400-word essay.

P.E.O. International

Up to $3,000

Varies

Awarded to women whose education was interrupted for at least 24 months but are now attempting to complete their degree or certification. This grant-in-aid cannot be used for living expenses or repaying education loans.

ZONTA International

$1,000 to $7,000

July 1 / September 1

Encourages women, who currently hold only 4.2 percent of CEO positions, to take charge or their business educations. Applications must be submitted via a ZONTA club.

The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting

Varies

April 30

Open to minority women or those who are returning to school in pursuit of higher education in the field of accounting.

American Association of University Women

Up to $18,000

January 10

Available to women of color who have been traditionally underrepresented within master’s in business administration program.

ZONTA International

$10,000

November 15

Provided to 35 women each year who are working to break into the male=dominated aerospace industry and further the field of aerospace-related sciences.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Varies

October

Seeks to support women and minority students pursuing advanced degrees in areas of marine biology, maritime archaeology, oceanography, or other degrees involving ocean and coastal areas.

$34,500

Varies

Awarded to women and minorities pursuing full-time degrees related to a STEM discipline. Funding includes a tuition offset and research stipend.

Women Techmakers

$10,000

December 1

Created to honor the legacy of Google’s Anita Borg and help women advanced in the technology field. Includes a retreat to the Google headquarters to receive personal and professional development training.

American Water Works Association

$7,5000

October 1

Provides a one-time funding opportunity to women pursuing a master’s degree related to water and water treatment.

National Physical Science Consortium

$20,000 annually

December 9

Available to women pursuing a physical sciences graduate degree. In addition to full tuition and fees, this fellowship covers a research or teaching assistantship, a paid summer internship at a government agency, and a mentor.

National Medical Fellowships

$5,000

Varies

Open to students from underrepresented minority groups within the field of medicine who have been involved in supporting communities and showing leadership potential.

National Association of Social Workers Foundation

Up to $4,000

Rotating

Available to women pursuing an MSW with a demonstrable commitment to serving American Indian, Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino populations.

Jewish Community Centers of North America

Up to $10,000 annually for two years

February 1

Open to graduate students planning to pursue a master’s degree in a field relevant to JCC’s work (including social work). Requires students to work at a JCC during their time in school and work in the JCC Movement at least two years after graduation.

The Roothbert Fund

Up to $3,000

February 1

Open to women who are working towards a master’s level degree in social work. Awarding of this scholarship requires an interview in one of four American cities.

American Association of Physics Teachers

$2,000

December 1

Women planning to enroll in a physics teacher preparation program are eligible for funding by the AAPT scholarship, which also includes a one-year complimentary membership to the organization.

Teacher.org

$2,500

Rotating

Women currently working toward a range of master’s level education degrees are eligible to apply for this scholarship, which requires a 500 to 700-word essay.

James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation

$24,000

March 1

Available to graduate students who are already in the classroom but want to obtain a master’s degree to teach the American Constitution at the secondary level.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities

The Council of Graduate Schools reports students with disabilities made up 8 percent of all master’s degree earners as of 2011, compared to 12 percent for the American population. Numbers do tend to fluctuate by field, with graduate students with disabilities accounting for only four percent of math, engineering, or computer science degrees but 10 percent of all education degrees. Bridging the gap between degrees conferred to students with disabilities and those without remains a central interest of many different organizations, foundations, and universities providing funding options.

Whether seeking a general scholarship to provide assistance or funding for a specific type of disability, these scholarships can help.

American Psychological Association

Up to $2,000

Open to women with physical disabilities who are working towards a master’s program at an accredited university. They must also be willing to keep in tough with the ELAF board and support base.

Union Chimique Belge

Up to $10,000

March 10

Awarded to graduate students who are living with epilepsy and pursuing any degree path within higher education. Up to 32 scholarships are provided each academic year.

National Council of Jewish Women, New York

$2,500

April 17

Available to female students with physical disabilities who are currently enrolled in a graduate program provided within the New York Metropolitan Area.

Cancer Monthly

$1,000

Monthly

Graduate students with disabilities who apply for this scholarship must write a 700 to 1,500-word essay on alternative treatments of cancer.

Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation

$5,000

March 24

This one-time scholarship is awarded to students actively fighting against cystic fibrosis while wholeheartedly pursuing higher education.

American Council of the Blind

Up to $4,000

February 15

Students who are legally blind, have a 3.3 GPA or higher, and are involved in their school or local community are eligible to apply for this renewable scholarship.

American Foundation for the Blind

Up to $2,500

April 1

AFB offers two different graduate scholarships for blind or visually impaired students studying rehabilitation, education of the blind, engineering, computer sciences, or physical/life sciences.

Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

$1,000

Spring

Offered to legally blind students planning to complete a higher education program focused on educating the visually impaired and blind.

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Up to $10,000

March 10

Available to graduate level students who were diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing prior to their fourth birthday. This scholarship has stringent rules on academic achievement requirements.

Baton Rouge Area Foundation

$12,000

March 1

Awarded to students with hearing or other physical impairments who can demonstrate financial need. Students from Colorado, Texas, and Mississippi are given special consideration.

Children of Deaf Adults

$3,000

First Friday in April

These renewable scholarships are awarded to the children of deaf parents who are able to provide a two-page essay explaining how that experience has shaped your life and goals.

Organization for Autism Research

$3,000

May 5

Awards are made to students with an autism diagnosis (DSM-IV or later criteria) who are pursuing any program within higher education.

Shire

Varies

March 8

Open to graduate-level students who have been diagnosed with ADHD and are currently under the care of a licensed health care professional.

Moss Foundation

Up to $1,000

March 31

Awarded to students with a certified language-related learning difference who plan on a career in visual arts and have demonstrable financial need.

Maryland Higher Education Commission

Varies

July 15

Awarded to a Maryland resident or individual who plans to attend a Maryland-based institution who qualifies as holding a service connected disability of 25 percent or greater from their time in the military.

American Association on Health & Disability

Up to $1,000

November 15

Awarded to graduate students with any disability recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act who are pursuing school on a part or full-time basis.

Lime Connect

$10,000

December 4

Open to graduate students who have a visible or invisible disability and are currently pursuing a degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field.

All Women in Media

$2,500

Summer 2017

Available to graduate-level women students with disabilities who are studying communications, English, journalism, media, or a related field.

American Association of People with Disabilities

$5,625

Summer

Provided to graduate students with any type of disability who are pursuing careers related to communications, entertainment, journalism or media studies.

Alpha One

$2,000

April 1

Open to students living with disabilities in Maine who are working towards graduate-level education in order to support their independent living.

MBA Scholarships & Financial Aid

The MBA can be an expensive degree to obtain, but that doesn’t mean students have to break the bank to fulfill their high business aspirations. A combination of funding options, ranging from scholarships and fellowships to work-study programs and grants, can help greatly offset the costs associated with these prestigious programs. The first step is often filling out the FAFSA. This document qualifies a student for any available state or federal funding based on income, while also providing much of the needed information to schools so they can decide whether or not a student qualifies for an institutional scholarship. Because FAFSA funds are released on a rolling basis, completing this document as close to January 1 as possible is crucial.

Stanford University

$150,000

Winter

Scholarship awarding the full standard costs of a Stanford MBA degree to citizens of African countries who demonstrate financial need and plan to use their degree to support their continent’s development.

The Economist

$25,000

April 30

In order to participate in this scholarship contest, students must complete a full-length GMAT practice exam and agree to attend one of the participating schools for their MBA degree.

Stern School at New York University

Tuition Reduction

Spring

This innovative scholarship for veterans attending business school reduces tuition to an annual flat fee of $30,000. All applicants must be planning to enroll on a full-time basis.

Simon Business School, University of Rochester

Varies

Winter

More than two dozen MBA scholarships are available to students planning to attend the University of Rochester, with specific awards to certain populations or those with particular aspirations.

Willamette University

$19,000 to full tuition

Due with Application

Open to students who obtained a bachelor’s degree outside the United States who are now planning to attend Willamette University for their MBA.

University of California Berkeley

Full Tuition

Winter

Provides the full standard cost of tuition for the Haas School of Business to a student who demonstrates financial need and completes an essay question and personal statement.

Government Finance Officers Association

$9,000

February 10

This scholarship is open to students who are pursuing business administration studies.

Reaching Out

Summer

$10,000-$20,000

Awarded to individuals who identify as members of the LGBT community and plan to attend an American MBA program at an accredited institution.

Society for Human Resource Management

Varies

Varies

SHRM hosts a range of scholarships for graduate students planning to pursue a career related to human resources.

Toigo Foundation

Varies

March

This award is made to students planning to complete an MBA degree and focus their efforts in financial services.

The Return of Investment on a Graduate Degree

Although the majority of graduate students secure some type of funding for their degree program, the reality remains that getting a master’s degree often isn’t cheap. In many cases students are required to relinquish their income while completing their studies. For these reasons and more, considering the potential return on investment on any graduate program is an important step in the enrollment process. How does this degree open doors for higher salaries and opportunities for growth? Is there a school with similar ratings that costs significantly less? These questions and more need to be asked and answered before committing to any college or university.

Decision Time: Is Grad School Worth It?

1
Research average salaries

“One of the best methods of determining whether or not additional educational expenses would be a wise investment for graduate students is to research the average salary for positions specific to the degree of interest,” says our expert Stephanie Hanigan. Before spending $100,000 or more on a graduate degree, it’s worth investigating how much you’ll make after completing the program, and whether or not positions are set to expand or contract in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to learn about average salaries and job prospects.

2
Think about cost of living – including loan repayment

“Since income earned can vary significantly by geographic location, students would profit from further researching the pay and benefits offered in the area in which they plan to reside as well as the cost of living of that area,” says Hanigan. But it’s not just cost of living that could have an impact on how much money students actually have to live on after graduation. “A student will want to calculate the current monthly expenses they will need to budget for and then determine whether or not the additional expense of a loan repayment is something they will be able to afford.” CNNMoney has a helpful cost of living calculator for various American cities.

3
Consider lifetime earnings

Consider how much a graduate degree is going to cost. Then consider how much more money you’ll make annually with a master’s degree versus without one. For some fields and industries, the difference between these two numbers is massive. For others, it may become clear that taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt can’t be justified.

4
Think about things that can’t be quantified

Much of the advice students receive about deciding whether or not to pursue higher education tends to be focused on money. While considering the financial responsibility of such an investment cannot be understated, there are also intangible benefits of a master’s program that shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Especially true for prospective learners considering a career change, completing a master’s degree is an open door to a whole new life. There are also other non-financial aspects, such as the connections students will make with with professors, cohorts, alumni, and friends. Whether or not a student attends the most prestigious school in their field, these connections can ultimately make the difference between whether or not a program is worth it.

Finding and Applying for Scholarships and Financial Aid

Scholarships often mean the difference between whether or not students are able to complete a master’s degree without going into significant debt. Taking time to fully understand the process and complete unique requirements of each awarding body can go a long way in standing out from the crowd, so it’s worth it to do your homework when applying for scholarships. Here are a few tips:

Create a calendar of deadlines

Some of the earliest deadlines are in the winter before fall enrollment, making it easy for students who aren’t on the ball to miss lots of different funding opportunities by not being organized. Seek out all the relevant scholarships for which you can apply and create a calendar with reminders one month, one week, and one day before they are due.

Organize yourself

After gathering deadlines for all relevant scholarships, create a spreadsheet with all the crucial information you’ll need for each scholarship. This may include the organization or foundation offering the scholarship, the award amount, requirements for eligibility, contact names, and deadlines.

Gather necessary documentation

Now that you know what all is required for each scholarship, it’s time to start gathering it all in one place. This may include requesting high school and college transcripts, gathering standardized test scores, pulling together financial income information, and organizing relevant personal details.

Complete the FAFSA

While you may not need this information for scholarships provided by foundations or corporations, any scholarships offered by prospective colleges or universities use these details to determine financial need. The FAFSA can be filled out starting January 1, meaning students should have all their information ready to go by the start of the year.

Review eligibility requirements

Before you spend hours writing a personal statement or crafting answers to unique essay questions, read over the eligibility requirements of every scholarship you plan to apply for to ensure you’re not wasting time. If there are any questions or grey areas of eligibility, contact the funding administrator before diving in.

Enlist a proofreader

Be it a former professor, colleague or friend who is an excellent writer, having an extra set of eyes to review your application before submitting it can make a big difference. While it’s important for students to carefully review them as well, having someone who hasn’t read it dozens of times may help avoid costly mistakes.

Create copies of each application

Whether an application is due online or via mail, creating a copy can help students in two ways. Firstly, some of the information from the application may transfer to other applications and save valuable time. Secondly, scholarship applications that are renewable often require the same information each year with only small edits.

Submit applications

Observing deadlines is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the whole process. Students can have the best application in the pile, but if it’s received after the due date it will likely be disqualified. When mailing applications, students should request delivery confirmation to show proof that they sent the document on-time should it be disputed.

Beyond Scholarships:
Other ways to pay for your master’s/graduate degree

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Although employer tuition reimbursement programs are popular for MBA students, thousands of corporations offer educational assistance for other graduate degrees as well. These contributions, which are tax-free up to $5,250 per year, can be used towards tuition, fees, and books. Contributions above and beyond this amount are typically taxed, although benefits qualifying as working condition fringe benefits count under this scheme so long as it would have been deductible as an employee business expense had you paid for it otherwise.

Federal Student Loans

The U.S. Department of Education has a range of loan options for graduates offered at a much lower rate than those provided by banks or private entities. Direct unsubsidized loans (also sometimes called Stafford loans) require no demonstration of financial need, with amounts determined by schools and based on how much money will be needed for an education at that institution. PLUS loans are also available to graduate students, with amounts chosen by the institutions.

Grants: Pell, TEACH and State Grants

Unlike loans that must be paid back, federal and state grants require no repayment, provided students meet a number of requirements both during and after receiving funding. TEACH Grants offer students planning for a career in education up to $4,000 per year. To receive this funding, they must take certain classes and take a job at a type of school approved by the Department of Education – otherwise the grant becomes a loan. Federal Pell Grants are typically only available to undergraduate students, but individuals enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program that doesn’t lead to a degree may also qualify.

Work Study

The Federal Work Study program allows students to earn at least the federal minimum wage by working in either community service or a job related to a student’s intended career path. The amount of money awarded via work study depends on both the student’s financial need and the school’s funding level.

Institutional Aid

Lots of colleges and universities offer scholarships, grants and fellowships that are based on financial need, merit or intended course of study. Most awards for these types of funding are based off the initial application, saving students valuable time that can be put toward other funding applications. Students should be in contact with the financial aid offices of any colleges to which they plan to apply to learn about institutional aid available.

Scholarships and Fellowships

According to a report by BigFuture, more than 60 percent of college students used grants and scholarships to help offset the cost of their educations during the 2014-2015 academic year, making this stream of funding a significant one. While you may think tons of qualified students are applying for the same money, taking time to turn in a thoughtful, thorough application can make the difference in whether or not you’re paying off student loans for years to come.

Assistantships (GSA, GA, GRA, RA, TA)

Operating in a similar fashion to work study programs, graduate-level assistantships – in the form of research assistants, teaching assistants, or similar positions – help offset the cost of a degree while also providing relevant experience. As confirmed by Cornell University’s Graduate School, assistantships can also be incredibly valuable. Students on a full assistantship at Cornell receive full tuition, a stipend, and individual student health insurance. While funding at this level isn’t guaranteed at every institution, students should speak to their program administrators to find out what may be available.

Private Loans

Private loans are often discouraged by colleges and financial advisors because they place undue burdens on students and new graduates that can be difficult to overcome. Unlike federal loans which are deferred until after graduation, have low, fixed interest rates, and are subsidized by the government, private loans may require payments immediately, can have interest rates up to 18 percent, and no entity is paying interest while students are in school. Private loans also frequently require an established credit history and a cosigner, making it difficult for students to attain these loans. Lastly, private loan interest is typically not tax deductible, unlike federal loans.

Tax Credits, Deductions and Other Benefits

The IRS allows graduate students to take numerous deductions or apply for tax credits while enrolled in college that can help greatly offset their tax burdens at the end of each year. The Lifetime Learning Credit provides a tax credit up to $2,000 annually (or 20 percent of up to $10,000 of qualified educational expenses) and is available to both full and part-time master’s students. The Graduate Student Loan Interest Tax Deduction applies to students paying more than $600 in interest, making a Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) of less than $75,000, and enrolled in graduate school on at least a part-time basis. Students qualifying for this program receive up to $2,500 in tax deductions. Lastly, the Tuition and Fees Deduction allows students to claim $2,000 to $4,000 per tax year if they have a MAGI of $80,000 or less.

Expert Advice on Paying for Grad School

expert

Stephanie HaniganStephanie Hanigan is responsible for managing, reviewing and awarding scholarships while working with the foundation office and other departments at Southern Oregon University to ensure grant and scholarship funding is current and up to date.  She also works closely with the director and associate director of financial aid to regulate financial programs and maintain internal and external compliance.  Additionally, she is one of the main contributors in the development of the campus’ financial literacy program. She holds a B.A. in art, English, and communication from Juniata College.

Interviewwith Stephanie Hanigan

Given the high cost of graduate school, how can potential students go about deciding if the cost is worth it? 

One of the best methods of determining whether or not additional educational expenses would be a wise investment for graduate students is to research the average salary for positions specific to the degree of interest. Since income earned can vary significantly by geographic location, students would profit from further researching the pay and benefits offered in the area in which they plan to reside as well as the cost of living of that area. Additionally, a student will want to calculate the current monthly expenses they will need to budget for and then determine whether or not the additional expense of a loan repayment is something they will be able to afford. Lastly, securing funding that does not require repayment, like grants and scholarships, is the absolute best method in financing education. 

There are countless opportunities to assist with the cost of higher education! Putting forth the effort to research and apply for them is time well spent, especially of it results in being the recipient selected for the grant or scholarship. Students should always look for funding specific to the academic department they plan to enroll in, grants or scholarships offered by the institution, grants or scholarships specific to the career or degree the student plans to pursue, grants or scholarships offered through the community, especially service groups, and educational funds specific to them, like military, tribal, or cultural funding.

What are a few ways that students can go about standing out on their scholarship application? 

In order to stand out on your scholarship application, think outside the box and when you think you are doing so, go further. It is extremely common for students to answer a scholarship application question in a manner relatively common to other submissions. For example, if the question posed is, “What is your greatest achievement to date?” the vast majority of students will provide an answer similar to, “Being accepted to college.” This answer may be the exciting truth, however, now the student has become part of a group who have all submitted a similar answer and who have become less identifiable as a result. Focus on what makes you stand out! Consider your responses and whether or not they will be memorable. Be open with the information you share so the reader can connect to your story, however, be mindful of and comfortable with the information you include. Do not share anything that will make you feel emotionally exposed. Take your time to contemplate your responses, consider the many potential answers to the application question and utilize the one that will leave a positive, lasting impression.

When considering potential programs and universities, how should students think about their return on investment and how that is influenced by their pick?

When pursuing a higher education and/or a potential program, students are investing in the academic content as well as the reputation of the school they attend. They become a member of the community that is the foundation of the college or university and as such, they are as much of a reflection on the school as the school is on the student. Students must consider this aspect when considering the return on their investment; in what way(s) can the student positively impact the school’s reputation moving forward and in what way(s) can the school positively impact the student? Being awarded a degree from an institution of higher learning forever ties the student to that institution, so all applicants should consider this when researching and selecting a school. Students will want to weigh the support offered by the college or university as this is a reflection of the school’s investment in the student. Will the amount and type of support offered by the school make the process of completing the degree more achievable, more enjoyable, and less stressful? Ultimately, the experience of mastering the academic curriculum to earn the degree and the support available to the student population as they complete their courses will offer a return on investment that extends beyond graduation