Parenting: Paying for grad school

Many colleges offer graduate degrees and doctoral programs, but the slots are competitive.

February 15, 2012 11:28:07 AM PST
Depending on the major, getting a graduate degree or completing a doctoral program can mean higher salary and a more prestigious position in one's field. But paying for it can be daunting, especially if a student is already tapped-out after paying for their undergraduate degree.

If your student is headed to either law school or medical school, chances are they will have to pay for it and the bills can pile-up fast. Many of these students work extra jobs or use the income of a spouse to help pay the cost.

It's best to avoid taking out loans as much as possible, because once interest is folded-in, the out-of-pocket cost is often even more than the student first calculated, especially if expenses pile-up and larger than expected loans are needed.

There are options, however, from fellowships (grants for tuition from either a college or private institution like a corporation), or assistanceships (an arrangement where a grad student pays no tuition, but teaches classes or helps with research).

Federal work-study programs may also be an has a very nice article mapping-out these options.

I can tell you that while grants or other tuition-busting opportunities often go to the undergrads with the highest grades and most exceptional resumes (loaded with research, work experience, or teaching experience), some majors are also more likely to offer slots for free.

When my daughter graduated with her animal science degree, she was told flat-out by her advisors and professors that she should not have to pay for graduate school in wildlife research because the need was so strong.

She elected to take a job in the working world as a zookeeper, but a good friend scored an all-expenses-paid assistanceship in Maryland, just as the professors had suggested.

Similarly, my son (who's working on an Engineering degree) has also been told that since his grades are very good and he's building a nice resume tutoring other undergrads and doing research and internships, he should also be able to find something like an assistanceship.

Whether it works out for him is unknown, since he's still a junior. But one key to success, according to several online websites peddling information to grad school candidates, is to cast a wide net in the college search, rather than becoming affixed on one program.

As stated in last week's blog, 20 applications is not unheard of and increases the chance of finding a match.

Another great tip is to consider a state school in the state in which you live, assuming it has the degree your student is looking for. These have lower rates and sometimes offer more financial opportunity to in-state residents.

---David Murphy

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