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College seniors eying graduate school need to get cracking if they're still trying to figure out how to pay for it.
For starters, they'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to qualify for federal Perkins loans, unsubsidized Direct federal loans and Graduate Plus loans.
Students should also be knocking on campus financial aid office doors and academic departments to check on assistantships, fellowships, job-study programs, grants and scholarship opportunities.
Another option is to tap your bank. Private lenders usually offer more favorable terms to graduate students because they are less likely to default, a practice called "cream skimming," said
With all these financial strategies, the proverbial early bird almost always wins.
That's something to think about when you consider that the cost of a graduate degree can cost anywhere from $30,000 to more than $100,000, according to various studies. And that's on top of whatever was spent on an undergraduate degree.
I get a lot of questions from readers on how to pay for grad school. Many parents haven't clearly established the ground rules with their college student on whether there will be any financial help beyond undergraduate school. Some people misunderstand the financial aid process or miss deadlines for filing key paperwork, with the result being that they miss out on scholarships and grants and wind up taking on more debt.
Here's the financial upshot for students pursuing grad school:
_Be clear about your goals. Given the broad range of tuition,
_Run the cost-reward numbers. Know the job market, said DePaulo. Will a graduate degree help you stand out? "Do some research on the jobs you're planning on applying for and the companies you'd like to work for to better understand how your graduate degree will be valued," he said.
_Ask for assistance. Many college financial aid offices have someone who specializes in grad school.
_Don't spend money searching for scholarships when plenty of quality information is available online for free. Check out several of the free scholarship matching services, such as StudentScholarshipSearch.com, Fastweb.com,
_Check out tuition reimbursement and loan repayment programs. More employers are offering these benefits.
_Plan ahead. Some college professors I've interviewed recommend students start doing their homework on grad schools by their junior year. That means checking on schedules for admissions tests, submitting applications and ballparking costs to attend.
Follow all the application instructions carefully. As Levy added, don't be left out because you missed a deadline or failed to follow up to make sure your application materials made it into the proper hands.
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