The Art of Graduating Grad School Debt Free

By Zack | Debt

Nov 12
How to graduate grad school debt fre

Deciding to go back to graduate school after my bachelors was one of the biggest decisions that I'd made since getting married. I read countless articles on pros and cons and ultimately decided that it was what I wanted to do. In the end, it was something that I decided was worth it for me. 

One of the biggest reasons that I didn't want to go back to school is because I didn't want any more freaking school debt. With the average debt for students that went to gain an undergraduate degree at $37k, deciding to go to grad school is not an easy choice. 

Related: How To Crush Your Student Loans 

I will say, that for the past year and a half, I've been studying International Relations at the University of Oklahoma and it has been amazing. I've grown in so many ways intellectually and also just as a person.

If you are thinking about going back to grad school and not sure if it's worth it and how you are going to pay for it then this article is for you.

One of the biggest drawbacks of going back to grad school though is deciding on if you want to take out additional student loans.  

If you can get into a program that is funded then you should do that. Although, most grad programs won't be funded unless you are super smart or doing some cutting edge research on an emerging topic. If you have undergrad student loans, one of the things I recommend is looking at reducing them as fast as possible by refinancing them

If you are anything like me and keep asking yourself if grad school is worth it, then yes, it has been great. It has been a positive experience for me because I feel like i've grown intellectually beyond what my undergrad degree provided and I also am passionate about the subject that I am studying.

I've grown as a person and in the end, I am an advocate of expanding your education because I thin the world needs more educated people, not less. Although, we could argue about that, it is not the purpose of this article.

We hear a lot about the “student loan crisis.” In a time where student loan debt is at an all-time high, how do you keep from accruing more debt on top of what you already have if you want to go to graduate school?

The most well prepared prospective graduate students will certainly be ahead of the rest when it comes to this important decision. I'm going to share a few tips that have helped ease the burden of grad school debt for me.

PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING
Deciding that you want to go to graduate school is a positive move. You need to have a plan in place, do your research, and make sure that you are choosing the best school and program for your long-term goals. Factoring in prestige, cost, and program outcomes are all important considerations. 

Many students forget that even a $10,000 difference in programs is a lot of money. At the end of the day, sit down and list out all your potential schools, programs, and cost of each option side by side.

This will help you clearly see how each school compares.
To graduate your master's program with little to no debt, there are a few key components that you must consider.

REDUCE PROGRAM COST AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
This is a long way of saying, choose the most affordable school that will get you the outcome you want. In 2017, there is not a huge difference in the coursework from your state school and that coveted “more selective” graduate program in “so and so” city.

The reality is that the internet has equalized education in a way that is positive. The name brand recognition matters but is it worth an additional $40,000? Probably not. There are often outreach programs that cater to working adults that are often cheaper than full-fledged masters programs. These programs can often be taken on nights and weekends as opposed to during the day. Check with your state school and ask what programs they have for working adults.

Other things you can do to reduce program cost:
See if your current employer can sponsor your program or find a job that will sponsor you:

- Find a Merit Scholarship
- Choose a state school or lower cost school
- Go part-time
- Find a one year program


EARN MONEY WHILE YOU ATTEND OR BEFORE YOU APPLY


Working after your undergraduate degree assures you that you have some real-world experiences under your belt before taking off and doing a master’s degree. Many programs, especially MBA’s, will not accept students unless they have some work experience.

One key way to avoid taking out student loans for your graduate program is to work before and save a nest egg that can help you pay out of pocket for your program. Additionally, working while you are in the program is the ideal route if you plan on graduating with no debt.

While some programs do not allow this, it is a choice you need to make to assure you set yourself up for success later.

The Return on Investment (ROI) significantly decreases if you are earning zero dollars and are paying 30,00-$100,000 for a masters program.

If you work on the other hand and can make $45,000 a year, find a program that is $20,000 total, then your ROI outlook significantly improves.

Simply put: choose the cheapest school you can and earn as much as you can while you are in grad school to maximize your investment.

Ways you can earn while you attend school:
- Drive for Uber & Lyft
- Drive for Postmates
- Get a teaching assistant job
- Work on campus
- Start a side hustle

SAVE MONEY WHILE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL
Graduate school is a privilege that not all get to pursue. It’s okay to make some sacrifices while you are in graduate school because it will pay off big later. Hopefully 🙂 

People tend to give graduate students a break because they know that school is expensive and not easy to get through as an adult.

Don’t feel bad about being cheap when you are in graduate school. After all, you are trying to be in the top 8% of Americans that can say that they have a graduate degree.

A few ways you can save money are:
- Live with roommates
- Live with parents.
- Drive an old car
- Don’t spend any money on new clothes
- Cook at home
- Check out textbooks from the library or buy used books on (BetterWorldBooks.com)

Here is what you never hear about in the media:
34% of graduates from public colleges do not have student loan debt
25% of graduates from private nonprofit colleges do not have student loan debt
12% of graduates from private for-profit do not have student loan debt

It’s important to recognize that many students graduate with undergraduate and graduate programs without debt. If they can do it, so can you.

I did it using the exact tips I described above.

THE BOTTOM LINE
If you are interested in grad school, you are probably already a critical thinker. Put that critical thinking to good use and think 10-20 years down the road and consider how your choices you are making now will impact your life then.

Graduating with little to no debt is a huge benefit. It is not easy, but it can be worth it if you follow some of these simple steps laid out in this article. 


Also published on Medium.

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About the Author

Zack is one of the co-founders of FreeUp and is in charge of setting the strategy for the blog and managing the day-to-day operations. When he isn’t plotting new ways to create awesome blog content, he likes to geek out about global affairs, ride motorcycles and can probably be found hiking somewhere during his days off.

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