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Guide to Financial Aid for Grad School

written by: Kate Henschel•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 6/30/2011

Unless you were left millions of dollars by an unknown relative, chances are good that you are wondering how to finance a graduate degree. Read on for some options that will help pay for your future degree.

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    From the University

    Many universities offer merit-based financial aid to deserving applicants, especially for PhD students. These scholarships are also called fellowships or grants, and they are awarded to outstanding applicants. It is important to research options at each university you are looking at because each school has a different system for awarding this scholarship money. Some programs require a separate application, where you can highlight your academic achievements and professional experience. Other programs review candidates for fellowships or grants based on the application for admission and do not require any extra paperwork. These schools may have an earlier deadline for students who would like to be considered for this type of financial aid, so be sure to verify the details with the university.

    Another way you may be able to have some of your tuition covered by the university is by applying for a graduate assistantship. This typically entails teaching a class or acting as a teaching assistant. By working a certain numbers of hours each week, you can have part or all of your tuition paid for and potentially receive a stipend.

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    From the Government

    Graduate students may qualify for a loan from the government to help finance their studies. A Perkins loan is a low-interest loan for students who demonstrate serious financial need. A graduate student can borrow up to $8,000 a year for a total of $60,000 in Perkins loans, which takes into account Perkins loans taken out as an undergraduate. Stafford loans are available as well, in two varieties. Students who demonstrate financial need may qualify for a subsidized loan, which means the government pays the interest that accrues while enrolled as a student. There are also non-subsidized loans, where the student is responsible for paying all interest. Students may borrow up to $20,500 a year in Stafford loans. Both of these types of loans may be forgiven through various programs.

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    From the Bank

    If you are still coming up short, banks have a variety of private loans for students. The rates on these loans are usually not as low as government loans, and they may not be a fixed-rate. There are different loans designed specifically for medical students, law students, and business students as well as general loans.

    It is important to limit the amount of money taken out as loans. Experts recommend borrowing no more than 10-15% of your expected annual salary post-graduation. It will be virtually impossible to pay back $100,000 of debt if your expected starting salary is only $25,000.

    Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons 

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    Any Other Options?

    The above methods of financing a graduate degree are the most common ways of paying for higher education. There are other ways, however, including finding an employer that offers tuition assistance or participating in a program, such as AmeriCorps, that offers an education grant upon completion. Or you can just keep your fingers crossed that you'll win the lottery.