Finishing graduate school should be an achievement that you can celebrate without having to face the fallout of paying off student loans. While it is true that student loans may be the only option in many cases, there are still a few techniques that can lessen or eliminate the need to depend on loans for your graduate education.
Many graduate programs will guarantee at least some funding for new grad students, while some will guarantee full funding; investigate many schools and try to only apply to programs that will at least guarantee partial funding, whether in the form of assistantships, grants, or scholarships.
Teaching or Research Assistant
Probably the best way to get through graduate school is to earn a Graduate Teaching (or Research) Assistantship. Even if you are not accepted for your first year, try again your second year; in the meantime, make strong contacts with professors who might want you as their TA and get good grades. The benefits of becoming a TA (or a GA) are health insurance support, tuition payment, and an additional salary that varies from school to school. Also, it will look great on future job applications.
There are many scholarships out there for just about anyone in any field. As early as possible, become familiar with what your school offers (or will offer), and prepare to apply for more than one. If you can do some community service prior to applying, that will always help. Some scholarships might require you to write an essay, while others are specifically for students with a diverse background. Even though some scholarships are for the academically gifted, this will not be the case for all of them, so examine your options carefully.
Always be on the lookout for on-campus employment opportunities or work-study programs. Check the bulletin boards regularly. For any employment opportunity in general, whether on campus or off, keep your grades up and develop strong relationships with your professors so that you can use them as references (or so that they can recommend employment opportunities specifically for someone in your field of study). Also, keep in mind that many graduate classes are night classes and can accommodate work schedules.
Create a budget and eliminate all unnecessary spending (refer to the link down in "Resources"). Do you really need that Starbucks coffee every morning? If you do "need" coffee, can you brew your own at home for half the price? Will it be cheaper to make your own lunch instead of eating out everyday? Furthermore, if you can tolerate a roommate, get a roommate to help pay the bills. Live with family if that is a possibility. Finally, unless you simply cannot avoid it, never buy new books. Get the syllabus early, and purchase your books from Amazon.com or eBay. Even if your campus bookstore is selling used copies, they still might be cheaper from an Internet seller. If possible, get as many books as you can from the campus library before others get the same idea.
Make sure that you find out about any Graduate Assistantship application deadlines and scholarship deadlines as soon as possible. Many of these applications will be due months before the start of the semester, and many will only accept applications once a year.
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