Applying to Graduate School: Smart Tips and Strategies

Applying for Graduate School: Tips for Success

Attending graduate school can help some students achieve their career goals, and may even be required in some fields. While applying to grad school is similar to applying to college, three are some key differences to keep in mind. Graduation school programs also tend to be more competitive than undergraduate degree programs.

If you’re thinking about going to grad school, read on. What follows are some simple strategies that can help you navigate the graduate school application process, including how to find the right program, create an application timeline, write an effective statement of purpose and personal statement, and make a plan for covering the cost of tuition and expenses.

4 Tips and Strategies to Prepare for the Grad School Application Process

Below are some simple steps that can make it easier to find and apply to the right graduate school program.

Choosing the Right Graduate School

It can be a good idea to apply to four to six graduate schools, and include both safety and reach schools.

If you’re still in the early stages of exploring schools and mulling over which graduate program to pursue, now’s the time to weigh your interests, skills, talents, and career goals to find a few options that may make sense to apply to.

Here are some questions to ask as you search for the right grad school:

•  Which degree path do you want to pursue?

•  Does your chosen career encourage a Ph.D. or a Master’s degree?

•  Do the schools you’re considering offer that program?

•  What is the cost of tuition?

•  Are scholarships available, either full-ride or partial?

•  Is the degree program accredited?

•  Does this school have excellent professors?

•  Will this degree facilitate your entry into the career of your choice?


💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.

Grad School Application Timeline

There’s plenty of prep work that must happen months before you start applying to graduate school. One way to alleviate some stress and make sure all of the necessary application requirements are met is to start early. Here’s a timeline to keep in mind.

Two Years Before Applying: Research Schools and Programs

Narrow down the programs of interest and your career goals about two years before you plan to apply.

One Year Before Applying

•  Prepare for any standardized tests required for admission. Some programs may require students to submit GRE scores, while others may require the GMAT. Law students will generally need to take the LSAT and future med school attendees can anticipate taking the MCAT.

•  Start gathering application materials. This could include things like college transcripts, letters of recommendation, and prepping for any personal statements that may be required (more tips on that to follow).

Year of Grad School

Generally, graduate school applications open up about nine months before a student would be expected to start classes. Some programs may accept applications on a rolling basis. It’s generally wise to apply as soon as all of your application materials are ready to go.

Refining Your Graduate School Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement

The statement of purpose for graduate school (sometimes called a letter of intent or a research statement) is where you detail your future plans and how the school you’re applying to can help you achieve those goals.

Students who are applying to multiple schools may need to tweak their statement of purpose slightly to meet different application requirements, but in general, there are a few common threads that are included in a statement of purpose. These include:

•  What do you want to study at graduate school?

•  Why do you want to study it?

•  What experience do you have in that field? How would you add value to the existing program?

•  What do you plan to do with your degree once you have it?

To craft a successful graduate school statement, you’ll want to create an outline and make sure you highlight your relevant experience and motivation for applying to this specific graduate school and program. You want your statement to stand out and target the school you are applying to; avoid writing the same statement of purpose for each school.

A personal statement, meanwhile, lets the admissions committees see you as a person, including your goals and passions and what you are hoping to get out of the program. Personal statements are generally more biographical in nature than a statement of purpose. It may highlight things like your passion for a particular field or help you demonstrate characteristics that will help you excel in grad school.

Recommended: Graduate Student Loan Limits: How Much Can You Get?

Options for Paying for Graduate School

There are a variety of ways to pay for graduate school.

Federal Aid

As a first step, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to determine what federal financial assistance students may qualify for. Often, people applying for graduate school are considered independent students on the FAFSA. Independent students are not required to include their parents’ financial information on their FAFSA application.

Submitting the FAFSA allows students to apply for all federal aid, including:

•  Federal student loans

•  Grants

•  Scholarships

•  Work-study program

Scholarships and Grants from Your University

Take a look at the aid options available specific to the school you will be attending (or the schools you are applying to). It may be possible to apply for additional scholarships, grants, and fellowships depending on the program.

Universities sometimes use the FAFSA to make financial aid determinations, but some have their own application process. Again, check the graduate school website to find out relevant deadlines and procedures.

Recommended: How to Become a Graduate Assistant

Possibilities Beyond Federal or University Aid

Other possibilities include employer tuition reimbursement plans, private scholarships, and private graduate student loans. Private student loans usually don’t have the borrower protections offered by federal student loans (things like deferment or forbearance, income-driven repayment plans, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness), so you may want to consider them only after you’ve exhausted other forms of aid.

After graduating, some students may consider student loan refinancing. Qualifying borrowers can often secure a competitive interest rate or preferable terms. Refinancing federal student loans, however, will mean they no longer qualify for any federal borrower protections or programs.


💡 Quick Tip: Master’s degree or graduate certificate? Private or federal student loans can smooth the path to either goal.

The Takeaway

Applying to graduate school doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start by defining your career goals and determine which programs you want to apply to. From there, review the application requirements and set an application timeline. The steps involved in applying to graduate school include taking any required standardized tests, getting letters of recommendation, and writing a statement of purpose. Also consider how you will pay for the cost of graduate school. Options include federal student loans, scholarships, grants, and private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What's NBBO?

NBBO: What It Is and How It’s Calculated

NBBO stands for the National Best Bid and Offer, a regulation put in place by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that requires brokers who are working on behalf of clients to execute a trade at the best available ask price, and the best available bid price.

The NBBO is a quote available marketwide that represents the tightest spread, e.g. the highest bid price and the lowest ask price for a certain security trading on various exchanges.

Brokers must guarantee at least the NBBO to their clients at the time of a trade, per SEC rules.

How Does “Bid vs Ask” Work in the Stock Market

In order to understand NBBO, investors need to understand the bid-ask price of a security, e.g. a stock. This is also known as the spread (two of many terms investors and traders should know). If an investor is “bidding,” they’re looking to buy. If they’re “asking,” they’re looking to sell. It may be helpful to think of it in terms of an “asking price,” as seen in real estate.

The average investor or trader will typically see the bid or ask price when looking at prices for investment securities. Most of the bid-ask action takes place behind the scenes, and it’s happening fast, landing on an average price. These are the prices represented by stock quotes.

That price is the value at which brokers or traders are required to guarantee to their customers when executing orders. NBBO requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients.

Recommended: How to Invest in Stocks: A Beginner’s Guide

What Is NBBO?

The National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO) is effectively a consolidated quote of the highest bid and the lowest ask price of a security from all exchanges. NBBO was created by the SEC to help ensure that brokerages offer customers the best publicly available bid and ask prices when trading securities.

NBBO Example

Let’s run through a quick example of how the NBBO might work in the real world.

Let’s suppose that a broker has a few clients that want to buy a stock:

•   Buyer 1 puts in an order to the broker to buy shares of Company X at $10

•   Buyer 2 puts in an order to the broker to buy shares of Company X at $10.50

•   Buyer 3 puts in an order to the broker to buy shares of Company X at $11

Remember, these are “bids” — the price at which each client is willing to purchase a share of Company X.

On the other side of the equation, we have another broker with two clients that want to sell their shares of Company X, but only if the price reaches a certain level:

•   Client 1 wants to sell their shares of Company X if the price hits $12

•   Client 2 wants to sell their shares of Company X if the price hits $14

In this example, the NBBO for Company X is $11/$12. Why? Because these are the best bid vs. ask prices that were available to the brokers at the time. This is, on a very basic level, how calculating the NBBO for a given security works.


💡 Quick Tip: How do you decide if a certain trading platform or app is right for you? Ideally, the investment platform you choose offers the features that you need for your investment goals or strategy, e.g., an easy-to-use interface, data analysis, educational tools.

How NBBO and “Bid vs Ask” Prices Are Calculated

To make those calculations on the fly requires a whole lot of infrastructure. Because the NBBO is updated constantly through the day with offers for stocks from a number of exchanges and market players, things need to move fast.

Most of the heavy lifting in NBBO calculations is done by Securities Information Processors (SIPs). SIPs connect the markets, processing bid and ask prices and trades into a single data feed. They were created by the SEC as a part of the Regulation National Market System (NMS).

There are two SIPS in the U.S.: The Consolidated Tape Association (CTA) , which works with the New York Stock Exchange, and the Unlisted Trading Privileges (UTP) , which works with stocks listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

The SIPS crunch all of the numbers and data to keep prices (NBBO) updated throughout the day. They’re incredibly important for traders, investors, brokers, and anyone else working in or adjacent to the markets.


💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

Is NBBO Pricing Up to Date?

The NBBO system may not reflect the most up-to-date pricing data. Bid, ask, and transaction data is flying around every millisecond, and it takes time to ingest and process it all. For high-frequency traders that are making fast and furious moves on the market, these small price fluctuations can cost them.

To make up for this lag time, the SEC allows trading via intermarket sweep orders (ISO), letting an investor send orders to multiple exchanges in order to execute a trade, regardless of whether a price is the best nationwide.

The Takeaway

NBBO represents the crunching of the numbers between the bid-ask spread of a security, and it’s the price you’ll see listed on a financial news network or stock quote.

The NBBO adds some legal teeth for investors, effectively forcing brokers to execute trades at the best possible price for their clients.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.


Photo credit: iStock/g-stockstudio

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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overhead student on laptop

Financial Benefits of Going to a Community College

Attending community college is often a much more affordable choice than going to a four-year public or private university. Students and parents can save money both on tuition as well as travel and living expenses, especially if the student lives at home. This can translate into taking out smaller student loans and paying them off sooner after graduation.

Going to a community college also comes with other benefits. Here’s a closer look at why a college-bound student might consider choosing a community college.

What Is a Community College?

A community college, also known as a junior college or two-year college, provides a two-year course of study that either ends with an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. Alternatively, it can provide the equivalent to the freshman and sophomore years of a four-year college, since credits can typically be transferred and used towards a bachelor’s degree.

Community colleges are located throughout the U.S. and come in varying sizes. You can find large community colleges with multiple campuses in urban and suburban areas, as well as small community colleges in rural settings.

Many community colleges also have technical and vocational programs with close links to local high schools, community groups, and employers.


💡 Quick Tip: Private student loans offer fixed or variable interest rates. So you can get a loan that fits your budget.

Benefits of Attending a Community College

Here’s a look at some of the advantages of going to a community college vs. a four-year college or university.

A Smoother Transition

The transition from high school to college can be challenging, but attending a community college can be easier for some people.

Community college classes are generally smaller and less intimidating. If you prefer smaller class sizes and not having to walk across a large campus daily with thousands (or tens of thousands) of students, then a community college may feel less overwhelming.

Transferring to a four-year college could also be easier for students who have taken classes from a community college.

If you are thinking about using community college as a stepping stone to a four-year school, you may want to find out if the school has a transfer relationship with any four-year colleges, and what GPA and grades are needed to successfully transfer.

If the school doesn’t have a relationship with a college you’re considering, you’ll want to make sure that the credits earned will count at that college.

Flexibility

One reason that many students opt for community college is the flexibility. You can typically take as many classes as you want, and it can vary from semester to semester.

Community colleges also give students the option to enroll when they want, unlike four-year universities, where you typically need to enroll by early fall.

Rolling admissions give students more flexibility in planning their studies, especially if they are working part time or need to save money to pay for tuition and books. The community college website will include key deadlines and requirements, such as transcripts from high school or another college, and any prerequisite classes.

The schedules at community colleges also tend to be more flexible, often allowing a student to work during the day and take classes in the evening.

A Possible Bachelor’s Degree

A growing number of states are allowing some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degree programs. This means students do not always have to transfer to another college after taking classes the first two years. While many of the degrees are focused on a particular industry or skill, community colleges are adding more degree options.

Obtaining a four-year degree at a community college could save a student the time of researching other universities and colleges, transferring credits, having to move, and potentially accruing more student loan debt.

Community colleges are updating the type of degrees offered to meet the needs of the workforce and often include ones in information management, nonprofit management, and health care.

Recommended: A Guide to Choosing the Right College Major

Price Tag

Community college tuition is typically significantly lower than tuition at public and private universities. Some states even offer free community college.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of tuition at an in-district community college is $3,400 per year. For out-of-state students, the average community college tuition is $8,210.

For comparison, yearly tuition at a public university averages $9,678 (for in-state students) and $27,091(for out-of-state students). The average student at a private college or university spends a total of $55,840 per academic year living on campus, $38,768 of it on tuition and fees.

Even if you don’t live at home while attending community college, you may be able to find housing that is less costly than living in a dorm or an off-campus apartment in a college town. Plus, taking classes at a nearby community college gives you the flexibility to work part time and earn some income you can use to cover your college expenses.


💡 Quick Tip: Need a private student loan to cover your school bills? Because approval for a private student loan is based on creditworthiness, a cosigner may help a student get loan approval and a lower rate.

Financing a Community College Education

You can cover the cost of community college (and potentially two additional years at a traditional college after that) using a combination of savings, help from family, financial aid, and loans.

A great first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will let you know if you are eligible for financial aid, which includes grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans (which may be subsidized or unsubsidized).

You can also help pay for your community college tuition by working at a part- or full-time job while taking classes in the evenings.

If you still have gaps in funding, you may want to look into getting a private student loan. These are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms vary, depending on the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.

Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and Public Service Loan forgiveness — that automatically come with federal student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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working on a laptop with yellow sweater

How Much Does PA School Cost?

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who handles a variety of key responsibilities. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, these include:

•   Diagnosing illnesses
•   Developing and overseeing treatment plans
•   Prescribing medications
•   Serving as the principal healthcare provider for many patients

Gaining the skills necessary to take on these medical responsibilities involves a master’s degree level of education, as well as:

•   A bachelor’s degree
•   Courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites
•   An average of 3,000+ hours of direct patient contact
•   More than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations (beyond classroom instruction)

With all of those educational requirements, it’s natural to wonder about the physician assistant program cost.

PA Program Cost

The Physician Assistant Life collated information from these three key resources to arrive at average costs for the 2023-2024 application cycle: the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), and a recent NCCPA Statistical Report. What they found:

•   The average cost of a 27-month resident PA program (including public and private) is $95,165.
•   The average cost of a 27-month PA program (including public and private) for nonresident students is $103,660.
•   The average total resident tuition and nonresident tuition were higher for PA programs from private institutions than for those from public institutions.
•   There was a 4% to 7% increase in the average total resident tuition for public and private institutions.


💡 Quick Tip: When shopping for a private student loan lender, look for benefits that help lower your monthly payment.

Paying Physician Assistant Program Costs

After making the decision to become a physician assistant, it then becomes time to figure out how to pay for the PA program.

By the time someone reaches this point in their education, they are probably already aware of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process that allows them to be considered for federal student aid. Often (but not always), by the time that someone is ready to fill out the FAFSA for PA school, they will be considered an independent student, someone who no longer needs to include parental financial information in the application.

Federal Student Aid

The results of the FAFSA application will determine eligibility for federal aid including:

•   Federal student loans
•   Federal grants
•   Federal work-study options

Federal loans can be a popular way to pay physician assistant program costs for several reasons, including the fact that payments:

•   Can be deferred until after graduation
•   Can sometimes qualify a student for tax deductions
•   May come with the potential for loan forgiveness

The types of federal loans available for graduate students are slightly different from those available to undergraduate students. The borrowing ceiling is higher but interest rates typically are as well. PA students may qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan if enrolled at least half time without any adverse credit history.

Federal Grants and Work Study Programs

Federal grants don’t need to be repaid. Here is a list of federal grants , their program details, and the amount that can be awarded.

PA students may also be eligible for work-study based on the FAFSA. Typically, students need to apply for these jobs, often ones at the university. Besides helping PA students to earn money, these jobs could be in the medical field, which can help students gain valuable experience.

University Help

Students can check to see what grants, scholarships, and/or fellowships their university offers by contacting the financial aid office. Some institutions use the FAFSA information to determine eligibility, while others have their own applications. Awards can range from a small grant to the amount of the full tuition. Check out deadlines for school-specific financial aid to meet them successfully.

More About Grants and Fellowships

Scholarships are available through the federal government, as well as through states, non-profit agencies, organizations, companies, and more. In general, these are merit based and don’t require repayment. (By contrast, grants are typically need-based.)

There are numerous grants and scholarships that are specifically designed to help with PA program costs. As just one example, the Physician Assistant Foundation has provided more than $2.3 million in scholarships to more than 1,400 future PAs. Requirements include:

•   Being a student member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
•   Attending a PA program that is ARC-PA-accredited
•   Completing at least one quarter or semester in PA studies
•   Being in good standing, academically
•   Being enrolled in a PA program during the application cycle

Grants to cover PA program costs can get more niche, such as Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology’s APAO Student Scholarship . Requirements include:

•   Being an APAO member or applicant who is in the last year of an ARC-PA-accredited program
•   Being in the clinical phase, having already completed or nearly completed basic science courses
•   Not receiving a PA Foundation or other specialty organization scholarship
•   Having a strong interest in the oncology field; clinical rotation in an oncology speciality is strong encouraged
•   Having a minimum GPA of 3.0

As another example, Physician Assistants Orthopaedic Surgery, Inc. offers the annual Susan Lindahl Memorial Scholarship , providing four $5,000 scholarships each year.

Members of the National Guard may qualify for the Medical Professional Officer Accession Bonus (OAB). To find state scholarships and grants, contact the appropriate state’s Department of Education . If a parent died in Iraq or Afghanistan while in military service, a federal grant may be available.

There are also state-specific PA scholarships, such as those offered by the California Academy of Physician Assistants (CAPA). Student members of CAPA can be eligible for one of five different $2,000 scholarships.

It may help to look for opportunities from where the student’s bachelor’s degree was obtained. For example, if you are a member of a fraternity or sorority, there may be scholarships available to cover PA program costs.

In addition, student athletes who attended an NCAA institution could qualify for the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship , with up to 126 of them awarded each year. Student-athletes must excel both academically and athletically and be in at least the last year of intercollegiate-level competition. Non-renewable scholarships of $10,000 are provided three times annually (corresponding with sports seasons of fall, winter, and spring) with 21 available for women and 21 for men during each sports season.

Fellowships

Graduate fellowships usually require that a student study, work, or research in the PA field, which means that they can gain useful experience while also earning money for the physician assistant program costs.

To find opportunities, talk to your university’s financial aid department or reach out to non-profit agencies connected to the PA field. The application process can be rigorous but can also be quite worthwhile.

Additional Ideas to Consider

When determining what PA school will cost, you’ll want to factor in any federal funding options (loans, grants, and scholarships), university help, and other grants, scholarships, and fellowships you may be eligible for. You’ll next need to consider what, if any, gaps in funding are left.

Ways to cover that gap can include employer tuition reimbursement, becoming an in-state resident, becoming a resident advisor (RA), working as a teaching assistant (TA), and private student loans. Here’s a closer look at each.

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Some employers reimburse employees for a certain part of their education costs. It can be worth checking what is available, how to apply, and what constraints might exist. A company might, for example, only reimburse funds for certain degrees or they may require that a student receiving reimbursement stay at the company for a predetermined amount of time.

Some employers may provide employees with professional development funding. If so, you may want to find out whether this be used towards PA program costs.

In-State Resident

You can often save a significant sum of money by attending a public university in the state where you live. Each state determines residency in different ways. So if you’re thinking about relocating to take advantage of in-state residency savings, check to see what residency requirements are. Some states mandate one year of full-time residency while others may require three.

Resident Advisor

RAs help new students get settled into dorm life and are compensated for their work. This usually includes part, if not all, of their room and board; perhaps a meal plan; and sometimes a reduction in tuition. Plus, RAs typically can get their own room, which can make studying easier (although this job does come with plenty of responsibilities and interruptions). How much an RA is compensated varies by university.

Teacher Assistant

This can involve prep work for teaching, organizing lab work, conducting research, grading papers, and more. Payment can come in the form of reduced tuition or a stipend. Besides helping with PA program costs, being a teaching assistant can provide experience in the field and allow students to network with industry experts.


💡 Quick Tip: Need a private student loan to cover your school bills? Because approval for a private student loan is based on creditworthiness, a cosigner may help a student get loan approval and a lower rate.

Private Student Loans

If additional funds are needed, private graduate student loans can help. Private student loans are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms vary, depending on the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.

Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans. But if you are looking for supplemental funding for your PA program, private student loans may be worth looking into.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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The Mortgage Loan Process Step-by-Step

The Mortgage Loan Process Explained in 9 Steps

Before most house hunters can close the deal, they need to qualify for a mortgage. Learning how to apply for a mortgage in advance — and breaking the process down into digestible steps — can help applicants feel better prepared and avoid any unpleasant surprises during the process. (Good news: The mortgage application process is one of those things that is more complicated to explain than to experience!)

Ready to learn how to apply for a home loan? Here are the nine steps in the mortgage process, including moves you can make that may expedite your approval.

1. Estimate Your Budget

Before any mortgage application, your first step should be figuring out how much house you can afford. Being realistic about your budget — factoring in income, debts, monthly spending, down payment savings, and more — can keep you from shopping outside your budget.

Certain budgeting guidelines can help you determine what kind of monthly mortgage payment you can afford. You’ll also want to figure in homeowners insurance, property taxes, and (possibly) private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Some popular methods for calculating your mortgage budget include:

•   The 28% rule: No more than 28% of your gross monthly income should go to a mortgage payment.

•   The 35% / 45% guideline: Your total monthly debt should be no more than 35% of your pre-tax income or 45% of your post-tax income.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


When calculating your budget, don’t forget the down payment. A higher down payment can yield a lower monthly payment — and putting down 20% or more could help you avoid PMI — but don’t drain your savings for a down payment. You want to have savings on hand should you need to cover emergency home repair costs down the line.


💡 Quick Tip: SoFi Home Loans are available with flexible term options and down payments as low as 3%.*

2. Choose a Mortgage Type and Term

There are many different mortgage types, and choosing one will depend on your income, down payment, location, financial approach, and lifestyle.

Some choices you’ll need to make at this stage of the mortgage process are:

•   A conventional home loan or government-insured loan (FHA loan, USDA loan, or VA loan)

•   A fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage

•   Your repayment term: typically 15, 20, or 30 years

•   A conforming or nonconforming loan (such as a jumbo loan)

•   If you should opt for an interest-only mortgage

A good lender will walk you through your options, whether it’s a HUD home requiring an FHA mortgage or a high-priced home with a jumbo loan.

3. Get Preapproved

At this stage in the mortgage application process, you can shop around for multiple mortgage lenders and even get prequalified. Look for lenders that not only offer you a great rate but that are also willing to help you navigate the mortgage process. Here are a few questions to ask a lender to narrow down your list.

Found the perfect lender? Then it’s time to get preapproved. During the mortgage preapproval process, you’ll complete a full mortgage application. The lender will perform a hard credit inquiry and issue a letter confirming your ability to borrow a certain amount of money.

In general, the better your credit score, the better the mortgage rate you’ll be approved for. If your score is above 740, you’ll qualify for the best rates. But in general, you’ll need a minimum 620 credit score to buy a house.

A preapproval letter, usually good for up to 90 days, can improve your odds of winning over a seller in a bidding war. In competitive markets, having a preapproval letter may even be a requirement.

Getting preapproved requires some work on your part. You’ll need to furnish the lender with proof that you can afford the mortgage, which typically includes the following documents:

•   Bank statements

•   Paystubs

•   Tax returns

•   W-2s

•   Retirement account statements

•   Gift letter (if you received help from a family member to fund your down payment)

•   Identification

Mortgage lenders prefer borrowers who have stable, predictable incomes. A steady employment history signals to the lender that you have regular income coming in to make the monthly payments of a mortgage. That’s why it’s easier to get approval as a W-2 employee than as a self-employed worker.

In general, lenders like to see two years of employment on a loan application. Self-employed individuals will submit two years of tax returns.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Credit Inquiry?

4.Find a Property and Make an Offer

Your real estate agent will guide you through the process of finding a property and making an offer on a house. The offer is typically written by the buyer’s agent on a standardized form.

Only make offers on properties that fall within the amount you’ve been preapproved for. Otherwise, the lender will need to re-process your full application again. If you don’t qualify for the new, larger amount, you may not be able to secure any loan on the property.

Your offer will typically include earnest money — a good-faith deposit you’re making on the house. It’s usually 1% to 3% of the offer price, and it’s meant to make your offer more attractive to the buyer.

If your offer is accepted, you’ll send the signed paperwork to your lender.

5. Submit a Mortgage Application

Lenders are required to do a second credit check before final mortgage loan approval and will likely ask for further documentation. If you’ve opened a new account, changed jobs, or made a major purchase since preapproval, those actions will have to be vetted.

Responding quickly to your lender’s requests for documentation can help keep your application on track. Your lender likely has most of the required forms from your preapproval application, but in general, you’ll need:

•   Documentation of income: W-2s or 1099s, profit-and-loss statements if self-employed, paystubs, Social Security and retirement account info, information on alimony and child support, etc.

•   Documentation of assets: Bank accounts, real estate, investment accounts, gifted funds, etc.

•   Documentation of debts: Any current mortgage if you own a home, car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.

•   Information on property: Street address, sale price, property size, property taxes, etc.

•   Employment documentation: Current employer information, salary information, position/title, length of time at employer, etc.


💡 Quick Tip: Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.

6. Be Patient and Avoid New Debt

The average time between submitting a mortgage application and closing is 50 days. During this period, it’s wise to observe a self-imposed “credit freeze.” That is, don’t run up your credit cards beyond what you usually spend each month. Put off major purchases. Don’t apply for new credit cards, auto loans, or take on any other new debt. And, of course, make sure to pay all your bills on time.

If there’s any significant change in your credit history, your closing may be delayed or even derailed. Should something major come up (like an expensive medical emergency), call your lender to let them know.

It can be tough feeling like your life is on hold while you’re waiting for your mortgage application to be processed. Try to be patient and just let the process play out. Now is a good time to reach out to friends and family who have been through the mortgage loan process before and commiserate. Consider this your orientation into the homeownership club.

Recommended: What’s a Mortgage Commitment Letter?

7. Get a Home Inspection

Home inspections may not be required — but they’re a crucial part of the mortgage loan process. Hire an inspector (your real estate agent may have recommendations, but you can shop around) to thoroughly check the property inside and out for undisclosed problems. If the inspector uncovers expensive issues, you may negotiate for a price reduction or back out of the deal without penalty.

Inspectors will look for a wide range of issues, but some inspectors are more thorough than others. Review this home inspection checklist to make sure your inspector will cover all the bases. In some cases, a general home inspector may find an issue that requires a more specific expert to take a look (and yes, that’ll cost more money — but it may be worth the cost).

Don’t let the infatuation with your dream home blind you. If there are serious issues that come up during the inspection and the sellers won’t budge on price (or agree to fix them before closing), seriously consider walking away. You won’t recoup the money you paid for the inspection — a home inspection costs between $300 and $500 — but if it keeps you from investing in a money pit, it’s money well spent.

8. Go Through the Mortgage Underwriting Process

A major part of mortgage loan processing is the underwriting process. But what is underwriting? The underwriting process begins after you complete your mortgage application and ends after all the documentation has been completed and includes the appraisal. During this process, the underwriter examines the borrower’s financials, as well as the appraisal, title search, and proof of homeowners insurance.

An appraisal is an independent property evaluation of a home’s value. It will describe the home and what makes it valuable. Factors that affect the appraisal value include the location, condition, amenities and features, and market conditions in the area.

A lender requires a home appraisal to ensure that it isn’t lending more than the property is worth. If the appraisal comes in too low, the lender won’t lend extra money to cover the gap. Buyers will need to cover the difference with their own money or renegotiate the price with the seller to match the appraisal.

Once the appraisal is complete and all documentation has been reviewed and verified, the underwriter will recommend approval, denial, or pending. A pending decision is given when information is incomplete. You may still be able to get the loan by providing the documentation asked for.

After underwriting approval with a “clear to close,” you’re set to close on your loan.

Recommended: Local Housing Market Trends

9. Close on Your New Home

Closing day is when all parties sign the final documents, and ownership is legally transferred from the sellers.

In the days prior to your close, the lender should provide a final list of closing costs. Closing costs are typically 3% to 6% of the mortgage principal and consist of:

•   Lender fees

•   Appraisal and survey fees

•   Title service

•   Recording fees

•   Home warranty costs

•   First year’s premium of PMI

You can pay closing costs by wire transfer a day or two before, or by cashier’s check or certified check the day of closing.

Before arriving at closing, however, you’ll want to do a final walk-through of the property. During this walk-through, confirm that the sellers have made all the repairs agreed to — and that the buyers haven’t removed anything, like appliances, that were meant to be left, per the purchase agreement.

In the past, buyers and sellers, their agents, and lawyers would gather in the same room to sign the paperwork at closing. In recent years, remote online closings have become more common.

The Takeaway

Applying for and securing a home mortgage loan follows a simple process that can seem complicated the first time you do it. But if you reply to questions promptly and are organized with your documents, it’s actually pretty simple — even if it does involve a little waiting time.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

What are the first steps of applying for a mortgage?

The first step when applying for a mortgage is estimating how much house you can actually afford. Once you have an idea of your budget, you can research mortgage types and lenders and get preapproved for a loan.

What are the steps of mortgage loan processing?

During mortgage loan processing, an underwriter will first review your personal information and information about the sale property to determine approval. The potential lender will request an appraisal of the home, and also request additional documents from you as needed. Finally, the underwriter will recommend approval or denial of the loan.

How long is a mortgage loan in processing?

It takes a little under two months from the date you submit your mortgage application and close on the house — the average timeline is 50 days. In some scenarios, you may be able to close in as little as 30 days.

How do you know when your mortgage loan is approved?

Your mortgage loan officer will contact you when your loan is approved. They may call you to give you the good news, but you’ll want to see it in writing so watch for an email as well.

What should I avoid after applying for a mortgage?

You want to keep your financial situation as stable as possible during the mortgage application process. That means don’t open new credit accounts, and keep your credit utilization down (no extra swipes on those credit cards). Don’t fall behind on any bill, either.


Photo credit: iStock/MicroStockHub

*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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