How to Financially Prepare for Graduate School

Graduate School

When I finally graduated college in 2013 with my Bachelor of Arts, the first thing that crossed my mind was “Thank god I am done with school.” After doing homework and showing up to class for almost 17 years I was so thankful to be done with it all. Now, however – three years later – the nagging question of “should I go back?” has been popping into the back of my head with a greater and greater frequency. The allure of continuing my education is strong, but there is one huge stumbling block in my way: money.

How can I be expected to continue my education when the debt is just going to keep piling up? How can I even budget for graduate school and be expected to survive it without going through bankruptcy? Well, I did some research, and I’ve decided to share it all with you. Here’s some tips on how to best prepare financially for graduate school.

Why you should go…

Okay, but before giving you the tips, let me answer the biggest question: Why should you go back to school? Well, the millennial generation is suffering the most from underemployment in our current economy. What better way to ensure you’re going to make a decent wage than to go back to school and get a step above the rest? Of course, remember that having “book-smarts” and a degree doesn’t guarantee you the job. I’m going to say this a couple times in this article: get the life experience to back up your textbook knowledge. Ok, now back to the budgeting bit.

The sum behind the loans…

There is an important difference between undergraduate loans and postgraduate loans. Those that have gone through the process of graduate loans recommend you research the price of your choice school’s graduate program. Since graduate school can cost more money in the long run, there are different interest rates and repayment options for those continuing their education. Once you get through the program your 6 month grace period is not guaranteed, so it’s vital to start budgeting immediately.

Money basics for the perpetual student…  

It is vital that you learn to budget your finances through school. You could even use apps like Mint to help you plan out the basic necessities of life.

Make sure you start saving early, too. There are a couple reasons why saving now to attend in a couple years is better than diving right back in. For one, you get the life experience that you need for the career that you are pursuing. What has been termed the “gap year” is actually highly recommended now by a lot of prestigious schools, and it’s for the sole reason of attaining a sense of worldliness. The other reason to wait is to create a safety net around your life. Get a stable job – even if it’s just something to pay the bills – and start saving up money while you can. Also, professional tip: if your parents give you the opportunity to move back in, take it so you can start saving up for general life expenses later in life.

Another option for saving money is to look into a 529 plan when tax season comes around. It’s a great way to get your taxes back to save for graduate college without getting slapped with a penalty down the road.  

Lastly, check with your employer to see if they have a tuition reimbursement plan. Employers like Starbucks will pay their employee’s tuition through ASU’s online education program. If you’re lucky, your employee might have a similar option!

Know what to expect when you go back…

It’s important to realize that going back to school is almost like getting another full-time job. With writing term papers, doing intensive studying, and working to save money – you are going to be busy! Luckily, there is now the huge benefit of flexible scheduling through online education programs. Despite the convenience you can still experience mental burn out, so be sure to take care of yourself and know when you are getting over-stressed.

Now comes the fun part: choosing the right school to meet your education and experience needs! Take a look at their degree program, who has graduated there and what they say about the department, and if the school has any scholarship opportunities. Be sure to take into consideration the amount of on-hand experience you may (or may not) be getting, since book smarts can only get you so far.

With these tips on how to plan financially for graduate school, I’m excited to jump into another couple years of learning. Despite my 17 years of constant tests and homework, there’s something alluring about going back. Maybe it’s the memory of spending long nights huddled up in the quietest corner of the library. Or maybe I just can’t stand not being busy. Either way, I’ll at least have the financial handle on my life to allow for the full graduate experience!

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