Tips for Getting Into Graduate School – On the Frugal!

by frugalista on April 3, 2012

getting into grad school | Dr Khia ThomasCherrio, my Frugs! I had a great weekend, hanging out with my friends in Washington, D.C., many who have advanced degrees! I’ve often thought about going to graduate school, but the thought of getting into debt again over education has stopped my pursuit.

I recruited (heh! Just like college!) guest blogger, Khia Thomas, who runs the site, YourGradSchoolCoach. Please check out her frugal and fab graduate school tips below. If you have any tips that YOU want to share, please leave a comment! –Natalie

Frugal and Fabulous Tips for Affordable Graduate School

by Khia Thomas, Ph.D.
Affordable Grad School Application Tips | How to Pay for Grad School
Getting into (and through) graduate school can be a costly endeavor no matter whether you’re interested in pursuing a masters degree, going to medical school, law school, business school, or seeking a Ph.D. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Those who say that grad school is overrated? Well – they’re just not doing it right! Part of my Frugalista claim to fail is earning over $100,000 worth of grad school education for practically free! Did you know that being a stellar student actually pays YOU to go to grad school? I earned a fellowship that included a guaranteed 5 years of tuition, health insurance benefits, and a (small) stipend for living expenses. Considering that out-of-state tuition was well over $15,000 per semester…. Well, you can do the math. That’s about $150,000 worth of aid to go to graduate school!

How to Pay for Grad School Admissions

There is a definite frugal way to getting grad school done, and here are a few of my quick tips:

1. There are advantages to being a member

There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it – graduate admissions committees want to see standardized test scores. Check with your university’s alumni association before you enroll to take the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or MCAT. You may be able to score a discount on test preparation courses and products. If you have to take the test, why pay full price if you don’t have to?

2. Aim high

There’s a very good reason why top universities like Stanford or Harvard or Michigan or UNC-Chapel Hill will never have to advertise for applicants to their graduate programs. These universities’ have world-renowed academic reputations – amazing faculty, professional connections, and highly successful alumni. But did you know these top universities also tend to offer the best financial packages you’ll find anywhere?

If you’re going for a Ph.D., packaged along with your acceptance letter could be a fellowship covering ALL tuition costs plus insurance benefits plus a small stipend for living expenses. Every university’s fellowships will be different, however, it is customary to have a majority of your educational costs covered. No extra steps necessary – just be a stellar student and earn your very own acceptance letter. This was how I scored all that money for graduate school for free. Thank goodness, it also meant that all of those years I spent nerding it up in the library were not in vain.

You can also score outside fellowships to support your graduate study. These are basically up for grabs for whatever graduate program you would like to attend! Research institutions such as the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, and American Psychological Association all offer these fellowships. There is a huge caveat: Fellowships for big bucks don’t come for free. You have to have a stellar academic resume to secure one of these bad boys.

3. If you have to foot the entire bill, don’t go

This is a controversial statement for a grad school admissions consultant to make.
I’m a HUGE proponent for higher education. However, I don’t believe in encouraging bad investments. Common knowledge states that all educational debt is good debt. Frankly, don’t believe the lies. You can absolutely make a horrible investment in continuing your education – namely, by paying more than you have to, or more than you can ever pay back in your lifetime.

As I mentioned earlier, fellowships are awesome tools for earnings lots of FREE money for grad school, but there are other forms of financial assistance to look out for to help offset your costs:

● Summer internships

Lots of business and law school students make big bucks through summer internships. How much? In some cases, you can earn over the course of a summer what many Americans bust their butts for an entire year’s worth of salary.

● Assistantships

Assistantships typically cover part of your tuition in exchange for working for the university. Common arrangements include assisting a professor on campus, teaching a few undergraduate courses, or working in an administrative office.

If you are offered an acceptance letter to any program that offers no financial assistance whatsoever, you’re raking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, and you foresee graduating and having to sell off your first born to pay back student loans, run far far away. You’re being sold a raw deal.

4. Online graduate degree programs – be suspicious

Here’s why: The sales reps (ahem, recruiters) will emphasize only taking courses you need, time flexibility, blah blah blah, but will they actually share with you that these programs typically cost more than traditional graduate programs? Or that your credits are unlikely to transfer to other programs should you decide to make a switch? Or that a lot of the fellowships, assistantships, and summer internships that I mentioned above are not an option to help offset the program’s costs? Be very suspicious for a good reason – for-profit schools’ number one priority is… well, making profits. Don’t make the mistakes of millions and fall for the marketing ploys.

There’s absolutely no doubt about it – going to grad school is worth the financial investment when done wisely. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, graduate degree recipients enjoy less frequent stints of unemployment, and also enjoy anywhere from close to a quarter million to 2 million dollars’ worth of lifetime earnings over and above bachelor’s degree recipients. Even after student loan costs are taken into account.

Following this quick list of tips will help you get through grad school the frugal way, which means that there’s simply more fabulous to experience in life on the other side of the degree!

Khia A. Thomas, Ph.D., is a graduate of Florida A&M University, University of Michigan, and CEO/Founder of Your Grad School Coach. She provides grad school admissions consulting services to promising applicants and invites you to subscribe to her blog for FREE tips on getting into grad school and getting on with your life.

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