How To Pay for Graduate School Without Taking Out Loans


Feb 24, 2021

We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.

As if figuring out what to study wasn’t enough, now you have to figure out how to pay for your next great academic endeavor. Depending on what you plan to study in grad school, this new adventure might be even more expensive than it was to earn your bachelor’s degree. 

Most students take out loans, with the average borrower taking on $54,500 in debt to attend a public school and $71,900 to attend a private institution. Of course, debts that large can be difficult to manage after graduation, even if you land a well-paying job. 

Therefore, it’s wise to consider other options to pay for school. Doing so will help you complete the program sooner and cultivate financial stability. Ultimately, finding alternative payment methods will set you up for a successful career in whichever field you choose. 

1. Work at the University 

One strategy for paying for graduate school is finding a job at your university. Work in the food court, rec center, dining hall or book store to get free tuition as an employment benefit. You might even be able to find a job within your field of study and gain real-world experience while you work. For instance, if you’re studying communications, the school newspaper or social media department may offer free tuition upon employment. 

Of course, stipulations vary across universities. Some may require you to work full time to receive free tuition, while others may only require you to work within a specific time frame. Spend some time researching schools in your area and look for job postings that match your qualifications. While working and studying at the same institution certainly isn’t easy, it will pay off when you graduate debt-free. 

2. Find a Job with Tuition Reimbursement

If you can’t find a job at your university, search for an off-campus employer that offers tuition reimbursement. Many companies offer these refunds as part of their benefits package. Of course, you’ll have to have enough money to pay for a semester or two up front. Your employer will then refund a portion of your tuition — or the full amount if you’re lucky. 

AT&T, Chipotle, BP, Starbucks, UPS and various other companies currently offer some sort of tuition reimbursement program for their employees. However, some may require you to maintain a certain grade point average or a minimum number of credit hours. Others will only offer reimbursement if you study at a college of their choosing. Therefore, it’s essential to do your research before you begin applying for different jobs. 

3. Start a Side Hustle 

Grad school can completely take over your life if you let it. As you sink deeper into your 800-page textbook, your hobbies seem to disappear. Why not breathe some life into old interests by starting a side hustle. Whether you love crafting, helping others or sharing your advice, there’s a way to turn your passion into profit. 

For instance, if you love writing, start a blog and make money off of affiliate marketing. If you’d rather spend your free time outside, download a dog walking app and get paid to take local pups on a stroll. You could even explore a new interest related to your degree or future career field. Build your repertoire by offering free services first. Then, transition to charging your regulars. This experience might just help you score your dream job after graduation. 

4. Look for Accelerated Programs

Some graduate school programs don’t allow you to accelerate your learning and finish early. Depending on your degree, completing your program may take anywhere from one to three years or longer to complete. If your dream school is more strict on these specifics, graduate school may be costly, especially if your program takes longer to complete. 

In your search for the perfect school, remember to look for ones that offer one-year programs and allow you to choose how many credit hours you take each semester. Attending a more flexible university will allow you to commit to a part-time job so you can pay for school as you go. 

5. Apply for a Grant or Scholarship

Who doesn’t love free money? Grants and scholarships are excellent ways to pay for your master’s degree. When you’re researching a program, keep an eye out for available merit scholarships. Speak with the admissions office to determine the eligibility criteria and whether or not you qualify. Look for renewable scholarships to support you during your entire academic career. 

Grants might a bit trickier to find because most use very specific criteria to determine your eligibility. However, there may be more grants available to you if you’re low-income or a minority. If you can’t find anything on your university’s website, scroll through online databases. Some search engines will even allow you to filter grants based on your qualities and needs so you can narrow down your options and apply to ones you have a better shot at winning. 

Work First, Learn Later

Of course, one of the best ways to pay for graduate school is to work first, then learn. If you took out loans to get your bachelor’s degree, you’re probably up to your neck in debt already. Now, you might be better off spending a few years paying down those debts and saving some money to attend grad school. Focus on gaining professional experience and choosing a graduate program to support your passions and interests.

Written By