How to pay for graduate school

Graduate school is an investment

Graduate school is hard work and it certainly stretches your financial capacity. Whether you’re in graduate school or interested in continuing your education, you have likely considered the financial cost of earning another degree. While graduating with your master’s degree is the ultimate goal, a secondary aim is to graduate with as little student loan debt as possible.

Financial Aid sources

Financial assistance is available in many forms. The most common type of assistance is one you are probably pretty familiar with: student loans. While you want to consider other sources of financial aid, we recommend you complete your FAFSA as soon as possible. Doing so gives you a better understanding of how much you can take out if you need to.

The second most available source for financial assistance is a scholarship. The College of Charleston has a few internal scholarship opportunities for graduate students. The Alumni Association scholarship for young alumni returning to the College for grad school is one such scholarship. Graduate programs may have their own opportunities, too. Be sure to touch base with your program director to learn more about any sources for funding for students.

External sources can be found in several places on campus. First, you can always find new scholarship, fellowship, and grant opportunities on the Graduate School website. The Paying for Graduate School page is updated each time we learn of a new source for aid.

You also want to work closely with the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. The staff work with you every step of the way for major awards such as the Marshall and Fulbright scholarships. They helped at least three of our students earn a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Another student earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study at James Cook University in Australia. You are encouraged to reach out to this office as early as you can.

Another popular avenue for financial assistance is through earning an assistantship. At the College of Charleston, full-time, degree-seeking graduate students can earn positions as research, teaching, or graduate assistants. Students at the College earn a paycheck for part-time work assisting in the research labs, the classroom, or in administrative capacities. Our students will earn a minimum of $12,400 during the 2012/13 academic year.

Students who secure an assistantship and are not yet South Carolina residents are eligible for an abatement. With the difference in out-of-state and in-state tuition, an abatement is a significant help to non-SC residents.

Earning an assistantship begins with completing an application. To find an available position, you should talk with your program director and look at CISTERNonline. Your director may know of open positions and CISTERNonline will feature any positions that faculty or staff post.

If you are a working professional, you will certainly want to have a discussion with your employer. While not as common as it was prior to 2008, employers would often financially support their employees who wanted to continue their education. Take the time to meet with your human resources office to learn about your organization’s tuition reimbursement options.

Current and future educators also have aid opportunities available to them by the state and federal government. One such program is the South Carolina Teacher Loan. The opportunity is certainly worth the time checking out. You will also want to have a conversation with the School of Education, Health, and Human performance about additional aid sources.

Fellowships and Grants
Two final sources are fellowships and grants. These take far more time but come with significant benefits. Again, you will want to watch the Graduate School webpage for new resources and work with the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards.

Other thoughts

  • Finish your degree as quickly as you can. Tuition and fees usually increase each academic year. While part-time students don’t always have the luxury to take three or more classes a semester, it will save you a little bit of money not having to spread your expenses across academic years.
  • Realize that you will more than likely have to patch together various sources of funding. This means a $500 scholarship here, a $1,500 scholarship there. This also means that you will need to carve out more time to apply for scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have to pay the tuition you already anticipated. Talk with as many people as you can about finding new sources for financial aid. Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge of a new fellowship or may have some extra money for a scholarship.
  • Last but not least, plan early. The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards requires you to meet with them at least two months prior to any deadline. The earlier you meet with them, greater are the chances of you earning an award.

One thought on “How to pay for graduate school

  1. Lauren

    As someone who is thinking about attending grad schools, this write up has been very helpful. Do you think scholarships using matching sites (i.e., , etc…) worth the time, can they really reduce a grad students loan amounts since so many people try for the scholarships?

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