When you first take out student loans after graduating high school, it’s hard to truly feel the weight of that debt. You’re young and looking forward to the best years of your life. It’s not until you’ve finished your undergraduate degree, that you begin to realize just how much money you actually owe.
If you’re pursuing a graduate degree you may feel motivated to avoid taking out additional loans to finance your education. Perhaps your goal is to finish your Master’s degree without borrowing a single penny.
It won’t happen easily, and you might need to sacrifice your comfort and free time to make it happen, but people do it every year. These tips could help you become one of them.
Become an In-State Resident
If you’re applying for graduate school, after taking a few years off to work you might be surprised to find how costs have changed since your undergraduate days. Tuition has been rising for decades, and a bachelor’s degree now costs two-and-a-half times what it did in 1988 after adjusting for inflation.
Graduate students interested in a public university can save tens of thousands of dollars by becoming in-state residents. As just one example, at UCLA graduate students who qualify for in-state tuition pay $16,847 a year while out-of-state students pay almost double the cost—$31,949.
Each state has different requirements for determining residency, so if you are planning on relocating to attend grad school be sure to look into the requirements for the state the school you are planning to attend.
Certain states require only one year of full-time residency before you can qualify for in-state tuition, while others require three years. During that time, you can work as much as possible to save money for graduate school.
Apply for Work-Study
Work-study is a type of financial aid available to students who qualify based on their financial need. You can apply for the program when you fill out your FAFSA form. If you qualify for work-study it will be part of your financial aid award.
After you receive your work-study award you’ll still have to find a job that qualifies. Many schools have online databases where you can look for and apply to jobs.
Typically, financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first served basis, so the earlier you file your FAFSA the better chance you’ll have of securing work-study as a part of your award.
Become an RA
You probably remember your undergrad Resident Advisor (RA). They were the ones who helped you get settled into your dorm room, showed you how to get to the nearest dining hall and yelled at you for breaking quiet hours.
RAs may be under-appreciated, but they’re compensated handsomely for their duties. Students are typically compensated for a portion or all of their room and board. Some schools even include a meal plan and sometimes even reduced tuition or a stipend.
The compensation you receive will depend on the school you are attending, so check with your residential life office to see what the current RA salary is at your school.
While there are plenty of perks to being an RA, don’t underestimate the responsibility that comes with the position. It can be a time-intensive position, requiring round-the-clock supervision.
Still, the perks of being an RA may be measured in saving money each year. By having a free place to live and a free meal plan, you can save and eat a diet that doesn’t just consist of Ramen and stale pizza. RAs rarely have to share a room, so you’ll also have more privacy than you would in an apartment.
Because RAs receive so many benefits, competition for the job can be fierce and selective. Polish your resume and hone your interview skills before applying. The difference between working as an RA and having to take out loans for rent could affect your life for years to come.
Apply for Grants and Scholarships
Like undergraduates, grad students have to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for federal grants. Many universities use FAFSA information to determine their own financial aid, so applying for it is mandatory.
The average graduate student earned $9,290 in grants during the 2016-2017 academic year. Grants and scholarships are a great source of financing for graduate school because they don’t need to be repaid.
Grants are available from both the federal and state governments, as well as from the university itself. Some companies provide their own grants or scholarships, and many private organizations sponsor grants.
It never hurts to apply for a grant or scholarship, no matter how small it might seem. Think of it this way—every dollar received is one less dollar you need to borrow or earn.
Find a TA Position
If you’re a graduate student, you can often find a position as a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant for a professor. The position will be related to your undergrad or graduate studies and often requires grading papers, conducting research, organizing labs or prepping for class. You probably had several TAs during your undergraduate classes and didn’t even realize they were students too.
TAs can be paid with a stipend or through reduced tuition depending on which school you attend. Not only can the job help you to potentially avoid student loans, but it also gives you networking experience with people in your field.
The professor you work with can recommend you for a job, bring you to conferences, and serve as a reference.
Being a TA may help boost your resume, especially if you apply for a Ph.D. program or want to be a professor someday. According to PayScale.com, the average TA earns $12.17 an hour, or about $1,000 a month before taxes.
Similarly to a job as an RA, securing a TA position can be competitive. Apply early and get to know the professors who will make the decisions.
Refinance Your Undergrad Loans
If you currently have loans from your undergraduate program, you can refinance them to get a lower monthly payment. That will free up more money to put towards grad school.
Refinancing your student loans at a lower interest rate can also help you pay less interest over the loan’s lifetime. That may not seem like such a big deal now, but you’ll be thankful when you’re saving up for a down payment on your first house.
Switching to a lower monthly payment gives you more flexibility in your budget, which is perfect for a time when money is tight. Once you finish grad school, you can start making extra payments and repay your loans ahead of schedule.
Paying for grad school without student loans is possible, but only if you plan ahead, apply for every opportunity and make decisions carefully. Many professions don’t care where you went to grad school, only that you have a master’s degree. Pick an affordable university and you’ll never regret your decision to go back to school.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.