By Laura Morrison, July 2014
For some would-be graduate students, cost is the principle obstacle that must be overcome in order for them to pursue a higher education. Some prospective students are overwhelmed by tuition rates, or saddled by student debt from undergraduate studies. In many cases, the prospect of taking on an extra financial burden could be intimidating.
Fortunately, your dreams of graduate studies may not need to be put on hold for financial reasons. With careful planning and dedication, it may be possible to balance your textbooks with your checkbook.
The first step to effectively managing your finances is knowing what to expect. Sitting down and drafting an overview of what your expenses will look like once you return to school is a step you take early on in the application process. Break out your anticipated expenditures out into categories, including important information such as how often you'll need to pay them. For example, tuition is a huge expense, albeit an annual one, while rent or utilities are much smaller in scale, but need to be accounted for monthly.
It might also be helpful to carefully record your spending habits for a day, week or even month to make sure you are aware of any "hidden" expenses, like transit costs or spending money.
Stick to the essentials
The truth is that returning to graduate school may mean adapting your standard of living to match your financial reality. This is especially true for those returning to academia after spending time in the workforce. Changing your lifestyle can be tough to master; the trick is to find and take advantage of every cost savings opportunity possible. If you live on your own, consider taking on a roommate to help shoulder living expenses. Search for home furnishings through secondhand sites such as Craigslist, and eat in as much as possible.
A carefully controlled budget is a graduate student’s best friend. Even if you choose to work as you complete your studies, planning and carefully tracking your spending may be the key to making sure you don’t get yourself into financial hot water.
Take help where you can find it
In the face of potentially significant financial stress, it's important to remember that you aren't all on your own. It may seem like a struggle balancing budgets with studying, but fortunately, there are resources that may be available to qualified candidates that might help make things a bit easier. Scholarships and bursaries should be pursued aggressively, as they have the potential to substantially smooth the financial waters.
Beyond scholarships and work-study programs, there are additional avenues that may help mitigate some of a graduate student’s financial burden. For example, the Internal Revenue Service instituted the Lifelong Learning tax credit that could potentially award qualifying graduate students up to $2,000 a year in tax breaks.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.