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Financing Graduate School

So you want to go to graduate school, but think you can't afford it? Got too many loans already? Parents fed up with supporting you and wondering why you don't go out and get a job? Are you a good student? Read on; in the best of all worlds, you not only can get into graduate school, but also get paid while there.

Financial aid for graduate school is different from that for undergraduate study. After the bachelor's degree, income-based financial aid, such as Pell grants or SEOG, cease to exist. Instead, graduate students are supported by the universities, federal programs, or foundations. Support from the university is the most common, and generally takes three forms:

Tuition scholarships or waivers. Most common at private universities and, considering the high tuition, are very valuable. The trouble with them is that you can't eat a scholarship for dinner. Combined with an outside job or a loan, however, they make all the difference.

Assistantships. Every student who goes to a large university knows what a teaching assistant is. TA's are the graduate students who teach, oversee laboratory sections, although some teach their own classes. But most students don't realize that TA's are part-time employees of the university; they get a monthly salary and perhaps a reduction in tuition as well. That's how they finance their graduate education.

Research Assistantships. In addition to teaching assistantships, there are research assistantships. Research assistants (RAs) who help professors do their research, in laboratories, in libraries, in offices or anywhere research goes on. Often what they do develops into published papers, or a thesis--that's an important part of being an RA but RA's too, are part-time employees as well as students, earning a monthly salary and perhaps getting a tuition reduction.

Fellowships. Support from outside the university comes from fellowships offered by federal agencies and foundations and are largely reserved for students seeking the doctoral degree. The most competitive fellowships provide $10,000 to $16,000 per year for several years at any school, with all tuition and fees paid.

Loans. If you are confident of your future, especially if you are in a field where lucrative employment is possible, loans are an option. Financing an entire graduate career with loans is not recommended or desirable, but many graduate students do supplement their incomes with loans. A large percentage of students in Master's degree programs such as the MBA, and law school, support themselves with loans.

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