Are you considering going to graduate school or pursuing additional higher education after receiving a bachelor’s degree? A lot of people don’t follow through with grad school due to having no way to cover the costs of tuition. If you already have student loan debt, there’s no worse feeling than adding on to that balance with additional loans.

Even if you have no student loan debt to begin with, it’s harder to make it through grad school debt free because as a grad student, you won’t qualify for any federal or state grants.

Just because it’s more difficult, doesn’t mean you should settle for taking out loans or just avoid graduate school altogether and put your career hold. Here are 4 ways to help you graduate from your master’s program debt free.

Start Saving Up Ahead of Time

If you know you want to go to graduate school, start saving ahead of time. Even if you decide at the last minute, take your time and build up some savings by enrolling the following year.

Research programs and schools you’d like to attend and compare factors like tuition costs, program offerings, the length of the course, books and fees required and other information.

Once you know how much you can expect to pay each semester, start setting money aside each month. When you save up enough for the first two or three semesters, you can enroll and continue saving up for the following semesters.

You can use your tax refund, get a temporary second job, or side hustle if you have to in order to save more money. Charissa from the blog Cook With a Shoe saves up each month to help her husband pay for school. Last month she ended up saving more than $2,500 from cutting expenses, side hustling and working a part-time job.

Ask Your Employer About Tuition Reimbursement

Employees can be motivated by many things and tuition reimbursement is one of them

Did you know that your employer might be able to pay for your master’s degree program? Some employers understand the value of well-educated workers and they will offer full or partial tuition reimbursement plans to employees.

Employer tuition reimbursements are very popular options for MBA candidates, but there are many other programs that may qualify as well. All you have to do is ask.

In order to receive the monetary aid, some companies have special requirements to meet like a high GPA, maintaining status as a full-time employee and agreeing to remain with the company for a set number of years after completing your program just to name a few common stipulations.

Apply for an Assistantship

This was actually the option I was leaning toward when I was considering grad school. During my senior year of undergrad, I was interning at the university’s public relations office and noticed some graduate assistant (GA) positions opening up for the following year.

At first I was going for a master’s in communication then I switched my focus toward an MBA. The current GA was doing work similar to what I was doing at the time but she received a full tuition waiver since she was employed by the school and only had to work 20 hours per week to keep it.

Graduate assistants usually work part-time and receive a stipend each month plus a tuition waiver for grad school. While pursuing grad school didn’t work out for me at the time, it was still a great option to have.

If you have an idea of which offices at the institution you plan to attend hire graduate assistants, you should apply so you can work at the school and avoid having to cover tuition all on your own. The money may not be great, but if you can budget well and stick it out, you will have a better chance of graduating debt free.

If you can’t secure an assistantship position, see if your college or university offers graduate school tuition waivers to regular employees because most do.

The one thing a tuition waiver may not cover is generally referred to as a ‘delivery fee’. Some graduate school classes are at another campus or location (as opposed to the main campus) and you may be charged an additional fee per credit hour that your waiver won’t cover. In this case, it’s important to still set money aside for unique circumstances like this even if most of your tuition will be taken care of.

Apply For Scholarships

A college scholarship application being filled out by a student

Just like with undergrad, there are many scholarships and fellowships available to graduate students. First, check with the school you plan on attending to see if they have any merit scholarships for graduate students that you can apply for. You may find some good information on the school’s website or you can give their admissions or scholarship department a call.
Another option would be to search online for private scholarships. Some great sites that are well known for offering legitimate scholarships include: Scholarships.com, FastWeb and CollegeBoard.

Try to apply for as many scholarships as you can because applying to have someone else fund your education and allow more money to stay in your pocket is well worth the time and effort. Writing a brief essay that’s equivalent to thousands of dollars that can go toward your tuition is a pretty sweet deal.

If you’re planning on attending grad school, don’t enroll or apply for any loans without following through with some or all of these options first.

Which one of these options would work best for you when it comes to avoiding student loan debt as a graduate student?

Chonce Maddox

Chonce is a freelance writer who’s obsessed with frugality and passionate about helping others increase their savings rate, eliminate debt, and work toward financial stability. She chronicles her journey to becoming debt-free on her blog, mydebtepiphany.com.

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