5 Ways to Pay for Grad School Without Loans

 December 10, 2020
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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?

1. Work at a university

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.

2. Try a graduate assistantship

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.

3. Find a job with tuition reimbursement

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.

4. Apply for specialized programs and grants

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.

5. Look for ‘accelerated’ programs or certificate programs

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.

Is grad school 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.

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Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
0.99% – 11.98%1Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%*,2Undergraduate
Graduate

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0.99% – 11.44%3Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.85% – 11.35%4Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.20% – 6.17%5Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit EdvestinU

1.12% – 11.23%6Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%7Undergraduate
Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

N/A8Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit FundingU

3.80% – 9.36%9Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit CommonBond

* 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.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust 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.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 8/9/2021. 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 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs

Rates are effective as of 09/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for EdvestinU.

EdvestinU Disclosures

EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.

APR range and repayment rates displayed assume a $10,000 loan disbursed in two equal disbursements. APR low assumes immediate repayment and 7 year repayment. APR high assumes deferred repayment and 15 year repayment. APR’s presented include a .50% interest rate reduction for electing to have payments automatically deducted from a bank account. The interest rate reduction for authorizing our servicer to automatically deduct monthly payments from a savings or checking account will not reduce the monthly payment, but will reduce the monthly finance charge, resulting in a lower total cost of loan. All examples are provided for educational purposes and actual terms may vary based on credit history, loan amount, applicable repayment term, and chosen repayment plan and method. Please note that the interest rate on variable rate programs may increase or decrease over time. The variable rate example assumes the same standard rate for the life of the loan. The NHHEAF Network reserves the right to modify or cancel its program at any time.  

Eligibility: Dependent and independent U.S. citizen students. Currently residents of Washington and California are not eligible for EDvestinU programs.
Students must be enrolled at least half-time at a U.S.-based Title IV, degree-granting college or university.
The borrower or cosigner (if applicable) must have a minimum adjusted gross income of $30,000.

Loan Limits: Minimum loan amount of $1,000.
Maximum loan amount is cost of education less aid received.

Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
6-month grace period available to borrowers electing a full in-school deferment. 
No prepayment penalty.
Payments may be postponed during repayment by qualifying for an economic hardship deferment.

Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.


6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. 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 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


7 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


8 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.


9 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.