If you want to earn an advanced degree without taking on a bunch of student debt, it’s important to consider how to pay for grad school without loans. Although graduate school can be expensive, there are ways to fund your degree that don’t involve taking on debt.
How to pay for grad school without loans
If you’ve decided that furthering your education is the right step, here are some options for paying for graduate school without loans:
1. Work at a university
2. Try a graduate assistantship
3. Find a job with tuition reimbursement
4. Apply for specialized programs and grants
5. Look for “accelerated” programs or certificate programs
● Plus: Is grad school right for you?
One strategy for paying for graduate school without loans is to get a job at a university. Once you’re employed, you may get tuition at no cost at that university as an employment benefit.
Stipulations vary across universities. Some require that the person be employed full-time, while others require an individual to have worked for a specific time frame.
In a viral post a few years ago, the popular financial blogger known by her pseudonym, “Mrs. Frugalwoods,” shared how she attended graduate school without taking on any loans. The key, she said, was plenty of research.
Knowing that people who work at many universities can attend graduate school at virtually no cost, Mrs. Frugalwoods spent significant time researching schools in the Washington, D.C., area with job postings that matched her qualifications.
She got a job at American University, a private school that typically came with a hefty price tag for graduate students. She began to work in August so that when January came around, she could start a new semester with her program totally paid for.
Of course, working and studying at the same institution isn’t easy, and paying for school this way means a multi-year commitment to the same job. In order for tuition to be reimbursed, you’ll likely be required to work full-time. Plus, your admission to the graduate program may not necessarily be guaranteed just because you work at the school.
There may also be tax implications. Depending on the nature of the program and agreement, you may need to pay taxes on the value of the degree, even if you’re getting the degree at virtually no cost. Understanding the fine print can help you fully grasp what the tuition remission benefit means for your circumstances.
A graduate assistantship is basically a part-time job at the university where you will be enrolling for your graduate degree. Unlike the example above, your priority with a graduate assistantship is your schoolwork, and the assistantship serves to help gain you experience in your chosen field.
An assistantship can involve a variety of jobs, but it’s usually research- or teaching-based. It may include teaching undergrads, grading papers or helping professors with their research.
Some assistantships waive tuition entirely while providing a stipend as well. Of course, it can be tough to make a stipend stretch far enough to cover expenses such as housing, food and school-related costs, especially if you live in an area with a high cost of living.
But the advantages of an assistantship are you’ll be fully immersed in your field of study and have access to networking and professional development opportunities.
In order to encourage employees to continue their education and learn new skills, some companies offer tuition reimbursement. Some examples include large corporations like Starbucks, Best Buy and Home Depot.
Each company has different policies. For example, Starbucks offers 100% tuition reimbursement toward an online degree at Arizona State University. Home Depot offers reimbursement at eligible institutions of up to $5,000 per year, while Best Buy offers up to $3,500 for undergraduate and up to $5,250 for graduate-level work.
If you already have a job, ask your HR department about tuition reimbursement. Some companies may offer it on a case-by-case basis, especially if the field of study is directly related to your current job.
Once you find companies that offer tuition reimbursement as a perk, network and contact their current employees to find out how well they managed going to school while working. Find out as much as you can about the program and the agreement before committing.
It’s also important to understand your employer’s expectations. Could you work flexible hours during certain semesters? Once your employer agrees to reimburse you for graduate school, do you have to commit to working at the same place for a certain number of years?
Assess how working full time and going to school will affect your lifestyle, and make sure it’s a commitment you can take on. For some, the dual obligations to school and an employer can be stressful.
Many universities offer specialized programs, fellowships, scholarships and grants that can provide financial aid for grad school. For example, Michigan State University offers fellowship programs that provide financial support for grad students.
Some grants are sponsored on the state level. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, for example, offers a grant to Ohio-based grad students focused on researching the state’s geology.
Your undergraduate advisor may have suggestions, and the office of financial aid at the graduate schools you’re interested in may also have resources. Some grants and scholarships may depend on faculty recommendation, so getting to know professors in the department in which you wish to study can be a good way to get information on programs and potential recommendations for grants.
Some graduate school paths don’t have wiggle room when it comes to how many years it takes to complete the degree. But other programs may be able to be accelerated, which can lower the price tag. For example, it’s not uncommon for universities to offer five-year dual BA/MA programs that allow a student to graduate with both degrees.
It also may be good to consider whether you need graduate school at all, or whether a specialized certificate program may be a better fit for your career needs. For example, part-time courses in specialized areas, like UX design, could give you a leg up in your career and may be a cheaper way to see whether advanced study is right for you.
Before you determine how to pay for grad school without loans, it’s important to fully consider whether attending is the right decision for you. The first question is whether you need grad school to achieve your career goals. For some professions, like law or medicine, the answer is obvious — it’s essential to have a specialized degree.
But for other fields, the answer may not be as clear-cut. Speaking to mentors, reaching out to alumni of the graduate programs you’re interested in, talking to recruiters and networking within your field can give you a chance to assess just how crucial grad school is to your professional development and financial future.
Perhaps, your primary motivation for going to grad school isn’t adding another line on your resume, but a passion for the subject or an eye toward a Ph.D. academic track. In these cases, there may be fellowships available for scholars in your field.
Talk with others who have taken the path about the highs and the lows, and what they wish they would have known or done differently. Having an understanding of what the next few years of your life might look like can help you choose the best plan for you — and your bank account.
If you decide to take on a small amount of loans to cover a gap in funding, here are the best student loan options for graduate students.
Rebecca Safier and Anna Davies contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
|3.99% – 14.86%1||Undergraduate|
|3.58% – 12.28%2||Undergraduate|
|4.49% – 13.82%3||Undergraduate|
|4.62% – 14.96%4||Undergraduate|
|0.00% – 23.00%5||Undergraduate|
|3.25% – 9.69%7||Undergraduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. 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.
Information advertised valid as of 12/1/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Interest Rate Disclosure: Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 4.24% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 3.83% APR to 12.53% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.
Auto Pay Disclosure: You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment from a checking or savings account. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.
Loan Cost Examples: Earnest’s Loan Cost Examples: These examples provide estimates based on principal and Interest payments beginning immediately upon loan disbursement. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $118.28) and a 11.69% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $21,290.40. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $126.82) and a 13.03% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $22,827.79.
These examples provide estimates based on interest only payments while in school. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $145.41) and a 11.69% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $26,173.03. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $156.59) and a 13.03% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $28,186.67. Your actual repayment terms may vary. Other repayment options are available.
These examples provide estimates based on fixed $25 payments while in school. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $169.92) and a 11.69% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $30,584.74. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $188.42) and a 13.03% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $33,915.55. Your actual repayment terms may vary. Other repayment options are available.
These examples provide estimates based on deferred payments. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $174.79) and a 11.69% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $31,462.16. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 15-year term (180 monthly payments of $193.75) and a 13.03% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $34,874.28. Your actual repayment terms may vary. Other repayment options are available. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.
Loan Eligibility criteria: Eligible students must: 1) For college Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school full-time. For college Seniors and Graduate students, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school at least half-time; and 2) be pursuing a Bachelor’s or Graduate degree. Earnest private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information, self-certification of loan amount, and school certification.
Before applying for private student loans, it’s best to maximize your other sources of financial aid first. It’s recommended to use a 3-step approach to assembling the funds you need: 1) Look for funds you don’t have to pay back, like scholarships, grant and work-study opportunities. 2) Next, fill out a FAFSA® form to apply for federal student loans. Federal student loans do not require a credit check or cosigner, and offer various protections if you’re struggling with payments. 3) Finally, consider a private student loan to cover any difference between your total cost of attendance and the amount not covered in steps 1 and 2. For more information, visit the Department of Education website at https://studentaid.ed.gov.
Earnest Private Student Loans are made by One American Bank, Member FDIC. One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104.
Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC, 535 Mission St., Suite 1663 San Francisco, CA 94105, NMLS #1204917, with support From Navient Solutions, LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by agencies of the United States of America.
© 2022 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.
LendingTree and associated sites by LendingTree may receive compensation from Earnest.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.99% to 14.75% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 4.49% to 13.82% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 5.25% to 14.48% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 4.99% to 13.82% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 6.50% to 14.83% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 5.74% to 13.88% APR (with autopay). For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 11/14/2022.
4 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for Edly.
1. Loan Example:
About this example
The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.
2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.