A master’s degree can be a great way to get ahead in your field, and in many fields, you need an advanced degree just to get your foot in the door. But a master’s isn’t always a great idea. If going for your master’s degree means increasing your student loans by five or more figures, you might want to think twice about grad school — unless you want to work in a lucrative field where you’ll find many opportunities and earn enough that student loan repayment won’t be as much of a burden.
Still, there’s good news — it’s possible to get through grad school without going further into student loan debt. Many aspiring grad students work and save money for a few years to help pay for school. Others choose programs that are friendly to working, adult students, like online programs. You might also get the money for grad school through a research or teaching assistantship or a scholarship. Just make sure you have a realistic plan for how you’ll use your degree after graduation.
Spend a Few Years in the Work Force and Save Some Tuition Money
If you’re an undergraduate student nearing graduation, you might be tempted to go ahead and go straight to grad school after earning your bachelor’s degree. But working for a few years in between undergrad and grad school has its advantages. Entering the work force will give you time to recharge your batteries so you don’t get burned out on academia and hit a slump that derails your studies.
You’ll gain valuable work experience that your colleagues who went straight to grad school won’t have. You’ll be able to bring confidence and a more mature perspective to your grad school experience, and you’ll get the opportunity to find out if your chosen field really is a good fit for you, at a time when changing fields, if necessary, will be easier.
Of course, perhaps the biggest advantage of working for a few years is that it’ll give you the chance to save some money to offset tuition costs. Now that you have your bachelor’s, you’ll be able to earn enough to save some money for grad school. Even if you end up getting a TA or research assistant stipend, that extra money will come in handy.
Work While You’re Going to School
If you’re a mature student with family responsibilities, working while you go to school may be your only option. Even if it’s just you and your cat, working while you go to school can earn you the scratch to pay your tuition bills so you don’t graduate with a heap of debt. Choose a degree program that’s friendly to working students. Online programs are ideal, and these days, you can pick from many prestigious programs and earn your Master’s in Communications, or any other strong career field, online.
While it’s true that there isn’t as much funding available to grad students as there is for undergraduates, you can still get free money to go to grad school. If you’re going into a research-based field, apply for a research assistantship with your school; the typical deal is free tuition and a small stipend for living expenses.
If you’re not going into a research-based field, you can still ask for a teaching assistantship. No matter what your field, you can probably apply for an assistantship of some kind. But the stipends are small, so you may want to go ahead and save some money before enrolling.
Scholarships may also be available. Look on your school’s website or call the admission’s office to ask if any merit scholarships are available for students entering your program. You can also search online for scholarships from organizations not affiliated with your school. You should be able to apply for scholarships even after you’re accepted to a program. Don’t forget to ask whether they’re renewable.
Have a Plan for Your Degree
When you choose your field of master’s study, make sure you know exactly what kind of job you’re going to get, and whether it will pay enough to be worth the time, effort, and cost of attaining it. Look into the job prospects in your field — if you’re planning to become a professor, for example, you might want to reconsider.
Grad school is expensive, but you don’t have to go further into student debt to cover those tuition bills. With a little financial planning and some hard work, you can cover grad school costs without borrowing a penny.
Photo courtesy of: Nazareth College