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Graduate Admission

5 Ways to Afford Grad School

» 5 Ways to Afford Grad School

So, you’ve done your research and decided that grad school is the right move for you.

Now you just have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it.

Let’s face it: going to grad school is a big investment. So what can you do to afford being a grad student?

Plenty, it turns out. Here are five tips that will help you afford grad school no matter where you choose to go.

1. Get Traditional Financial Aid

The first thing you’ll want to do as you figure out how to afford grad school is see how much financial aid you can get.

Financial aid comes in all shapes and sizes. So let’s break down the most common types:


You’ve probably heard of scholarships. They’re one of the most common types of financial aid.

Scholarships are financial awards that help fund your graduate study. They’re available from schools and a number of different sources, such as private organizations, nonprofits and state and federal governments. Scholarships are free money: you don’t need to pay them back.

Whether or not you’re eligible for a scholarship depends on the scholarship itself. In other words, every scholarship has different requirements.

That said, almost all scholarships base their requirements on academic achievement. After all, they’re called scholarships for a reason.

Certain scholarships have requirements besides academic merit, but in general the better you’ve done academically, the better your chances of receiving scholarships.


Grants are similar to scholarships: they’re financial awards that will help you find your education. They typically come from federal, state or local governments.

Like scholarships, grants are completely free. You don’t need to pay them back.

Unlike scholarships, however, grants are usually based on financial need rather than academic achievement.


Like scholarships and grants, fellowships are financial awards that you don’t need to repay.

Fellowships can be based on merit (like scholarships) or need (like grants). But unlike scholarships and grants, fellowships typically come with a work requirement, such as teaching or doing research.

Because of this, fellowships may seem less worthwhile than scholarships or grants. After all, scholarships and grants are free money.

But remember: fellowships don’t just give you money; they give you experience. That experience can be invaluable as you pursue your goals in graduate school and beyond.


Loans are also a common way to pay for your education. As a grad student, you have two options for taking out a loan:

  • Federal loans (only available to U.S. citizens)
  • Private loans

Let’s explore each option.

Federal Loans

The United States federal government provides loans for graduate students (as long as they’re U.S. citizens). But there’s a catch: graduate loans are unsubsidized (as opposed to undergraduate loans, which are subsidized).

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to unsubsidized loans.

The good news is that unsubsidized loans aren’t based on financial need; anyone can get them.

The bad news is that with an unsubsidized loan, you start accruing interest from the moment you take out the loan. This means that when you pay the loan back, you’re responsible for the full loan amount plus all the interest accrued.

Private Loans

If federal loans aren’t enough or if you don’t qualify for federal loans, you can get loans from private organizations. Private loans typically have no borrowing limit, so they are a good option if you’re in need of a lot of funding.

Try starting with your current bank or financial institution. Find out if they provide loans for graduate students.

Just keep in mind that most private loans:

  • Have higher interest rates than federal loans.
  • Require you to have a good credit score or someone to cosign the loan for you.

No matter which type of loan you choose, make sure you’ve exhausted all your other financial aid options first and gotten as much money as you can out of scholarships, grants and fellowships. Unlike these other options, loans cost money in the long run.

One last point to keep in mind: typically, to receive financial aid of any type (scholarships, grants, fellowships and loans) you must be one of the following:

  • A U.S. citizen.
  • A U.S. national
  • A U.S. permanent resident
If you are an international student or an undocumented student and you need financial aid, check out this list of scholarships that don’t require proof of citizenship.

2. Work on Campus

Working on campus is a great way to make money to pay for grad school. That much is a no brainer. But working on campus won’t just make you money; it’ll actually save you money in the long run as well.

How? Well, unless you get a stipend to help pay your living expenses, you’ll likely be working your way through grad school regardless. And if your work is on campus, you will be able to:

  • Save money on your commute: You’ll have fewer trips to make per day because your job will be right where your classes are: on campus.
  • Save time: Not commuting each day means you’ll have extra time to do your homework, hit the books or get some much-needed R&R.
  • Work in your field: This one’s not a guarantee, but play your cards right and you might be able to land an on-campus job or assistantship that lets you work in your field. This means that you’ll get paid to conduct research, do lab work, attend conferences and more — not to mention all the networking opportunities.

To sum up, working on campus can help you make money, save money and time and get worthwhile professional experience.

3. Take an Integrated 4+1 Program

Taking an integrated 4+1 program is another great way to keep costs down.

Earning a typical MA or MS degree usually takes about two years. Earning more advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or a Pharm.D., takes even longer.

And every semester you spend in your program is another semester you have to pay your tuition and fees.

In short: the quicker you earn your degree, the less you will have to pay for it.

And that’s what integrated 4+1 programs are for: earning your degree quickly.

In an integrated 4+1 program, you may end up only having to pay as little as two semesters’ worth of tuition.

If you can’t get enough financial aid to cover years of grad school, look into taking an integrated 4+1 program (like the ones we offer here at Chapman).


Keep in mind that some schools (like us for example) allow only their current undergraduate students to sign up for an Integrated 4+1 program. At schools with this policy, you can’t start an Integrated 4+1 program after you graduate with your bachelor’s; you have to start while you’re still an undergrad.

4. Have Your Employer Pay for It

If you work for a large company, you’re in luck when it comes to going to grad school: some will pay their employees to get advanced degrees. Certain ones will even fund your tuition in full.

This is called “tuition reimbursement,” and it may sound too good to be true — especially if you’re already working for a company with a tuition reimbursement program — but it makes sense:

  1. Companies want intelligent, skilled people.
  2. Grad school makes you more intelligent and more skilled.
  3. Companies like this because it lets them increase their intelligence pool and skill pool without hiring.
  4. You like this because it means your company pays for your education.

It’s a win-win, and one you should take advantage of if you can. Find out from your co-workers (or the internet) if your company has a tuition reimbursement program. If so, break that ice with your HR department or your boss or supervisor, and make sure you come prepared with a list of reasons why sending you to grad school on company money is an amazing idea.

5. Earn Your Degree Online

In this day and age, plenty of us live, work and — yes — learn online. So earning a graduate degree partially or fully online is becoming more and more common.

When it comes to saving money, online classes may not necessarily be cheaper than their in-person equivalents (though they can be!), but they can still help you save money in the long run. With online classes, you will be able to save on

  • Transportation: Taking online classes will save you money on transportation because you won’t have to commute to campus as much. Plus, you’ll save time while you’re at it.
  • Supplies: If you take online classes, chances are you’ll also use online textbooks, which are often cheaper than their physical counterparts. Plus, your school or your professors may provide you with the class’ required materials and programs for free.

As long as you’re ok with the online class format and can hold yourself accountable to complete your work on time, earning your graduate degree partially or fully online will save you money.


If you do decide to pursue your graduate degree online, keep in mind that Chapman does not offer online graduate programs under normal circumstances (i.e. outside of global pandemics). So if online is a must for you, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

To sum up, you can make grad school more affordable by:

  • Taking advantage of financial aid.
  • Working on campus.
  • Getting your work to pay for it.
  • Earning your degree online.
  • Taking an accelerated program (if you are qualified)

Mix and match these strategies, and you’ll be well on your way to an affordable graduate degree.

Chapman University is a private university located in Southern California. We offer over 40 graduate degree programs and certificate programs, and we’re committed to helping you get the best education possible. You can contact us at gradadmit@chapman.edu or (714) 997-6711.

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