5 Little-Known Ways to Pay for Your Graduate Degree

how to get student loans

Nearly 3 million students enroll in graduate schools each year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and that number is only expected to rise over the next nine years.

But with the focus on financing education weighted heavily toward undergraduate students, grad students can often feel left in the dark on how to pay for grad school. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to reduce or cover the costs of pursuing a higher education degree; you just might not know about them.

From how to get student loans to having your employer foot your tuition bill, here are little-known ways to make graduate school more affordable without going broke.

1. Find a scholarship

Undergraduate students aren’t the only ones with scholarship opportunities. In fact, there are some graduate student-specific scholarships that you apply for based on your major or area of focus, ethnic background, religion, or career prospects.

To find out what’s available to you, head to websites such as StudentScholarshipSearch.com. Here you can search by category of scholarships, for example, accounting focused ones, or even fill out their scholarship matching survey. With the survey, you enter your grade, state, GPA, gender, and ethnic background, and the website will produce a list of possible scholarships.

Also, be sure to ask your college or university’s financial aid department what school-specific scholarships they have available to graduate students.

2. Get your employer to pay

Many companies pride themselves on a diverse and highly-skilled workforce, and sometimes this means they’re willing to help finance employees’ educational pursuits. This is often done through tuition reimbursement programs.

Through these programs, companies will often pay back part of your tuition costs up to a certain dollar amount. At Cigna insurance, for example, the company will cover many of the initial fees such application and registration costs, in addition to actual coursework up to $12,000 a year.

AT&T, Best Buy, and Wells Fargo all offer similar programs, and according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, about 83 percent of professional organizations have some educational assistance.

Companies may require that the coursework directly relates to job-related duties, but you’ll likely be at the job for a similar interest already. For example, a bank may ask you pursue a graduate degree in finance.

If you want to take this route, you could search for employers that offer this benefit before applying for a job. Or, if you’re currently at a company, ask human resources what their policy is regarding tuition reimbursement.

3. Take your tax credits and deductions

Figuring out how to pay for graduate school and living expenses might not always be as direct as using scholarships or loans. Savings could come in the form of tax credits and deductions. When tax time rolls around, check to see if you qualify for the federal Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLC).

This credit allows some eligible students to reduce their taxable income by up to $2,000 a year. There is no limit to how often you can use this credit; you just must taking higher education courses and make under $65,000 ($131,000 if filing jointly).

You should also look into the Tuition and Fees Deduction. With this tax benefit, you can deduct up to $4,000 from your taxable income for eligible expenses such as tuition, books, and fees. You can take advantage of this deduction if you make under $80,000 ($160,000 if filing jointly).

Lastly, you should see if you’re eligible for American Opportunity Tax credit. With this credit, you can get up to $2,500 worth of credit for eligible expenses and 40 percent is considered refundable. So, you’ll still get the credit even if you owe taxes overall. The maximum salary you can make to qualify is $90,000 ($180,000 if filing jointly).

Unfortunately, you cannot apply for all three at once.

4. Look for a one-year program

Who says you have to go to school for another two-plus years to get a graduate degree? There are a number of one-year programs across different interests that could help cut your costs for graduate school in half.

For example, you could get a master’s degree in accounting, business analytics, risk management, or global finances from New York University’s Stern School of Business or journalism from Columbia University. You could even get your MBA from Northwestern.

With these, you get all of the prestige of a top-rated school, but only have to pay for a year of schooling. That’s sure to keep costs down while pursuing your advanced degree so you don’t have to worry as much about how to get student loans.

5. Take out student loans

If you’ve exhausted your scholarship and grant options (a.k.a. free money for school), here’s how to get student loans.

First, you should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) where you will find out if you qualify for Federal Stafford Loan, Federal Grad PLUS loan, Perkins Loans, and Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

If you still have outstanding education costs that aren’t covered by federal loans, then you could consider private student loans. This is when you apply to a direct lending constitution — such as Citizens Bank — that will determine your eligibility based on certain criteria, including your credit score and income level.

These loans have varying interest rates and repayment terms, so it’s important to check all the fine print before applying or accepting a private student loan.

For some of the best ones of 2018, check out these six that Student Loan Hero reviewed.

So, if you’re eager to get that master’s degree, hopefully, these tips will help you figure out how to pay for graduate school without going broke. Try one (or all) of them to get the most out of your degree and wallet.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
LenderRates (APR)Eligibility 

1 = Citizens Disclaimer.

2 = CollegeAve Autopay Disclaimer: The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
3.46% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit Citizens
2.93% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit CommonBond
3.79% -
Undergraduate, Graduate, and ParentsVisit CollegeAve
4.19% - 9.69%Undergraduate and GraduateVisit LendKey
3.35% - 10.89%Undergraduate and GraduateVisit Connext
3.25% - 11.85%Undergraduate and GraduateVisit SallieMae
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