When it comes to getting into the most competitive graduate schools, many applicants have a “I’ll worry about it later” mentality. If they are fortunate enough to get into a school like Harvard, the thinking goes, they will gladly deal with the question of how to pay for it. While this is somewhat understandable, applicants owe it to themselves to consider the true cost and the true reward of the educational opportunity before them.
Many will tell you that borrowing money to pay for school is an investment and not debt, but try telling that to the loan services when they send out the monthly bill. Not only that, but the analysis is rarely about going back to school or not going, but rather about making the best possible choice. It may be the case that attending your dream school without the aid of scholarships or grants is the best decision, but it might also be true that a secondary opportunity starts to look a lot better when the calculator comes out.
Today we look at five things you should consider before you choose which graduate school to attend:
Calculate how much you will pay over the life of your loans
A six-figure loan is a lot of money, for sure, but it is really a lot of money when the interest kicks in immediately and keeps accumulating for the life of a 10-year loan period. Students should make sure to work with the financial aid officers to figure out how much they will ultimately shell out by the time they finish making payments. Any differences in “free money” between school A and B will only become more exaggerated over time.
Don’t fall into the “drop in the bucket” mentality
Most grad students find the sticker price of graduate school so high that they sort of give up before they even get started. Not only does this lead to a less-than-careful review of the award letter, lack of effort in contacting the financial aid officer, and a failure to appeal for reconsideration, it can also lead to careless spending. A bigger or nicer apartment, a car payment, and a brand new laptop are all very common expenditures for grad students, and while the extra five or ten thousand dollars doesn’t seem like much next to a $140,000 education, that extra spending will absolutely be paid for by the loans with the worst terms and highest interest rates. Those items will ultimately cost the student twice as much down the road.
Don’t give up on outside funding
More common among high school students with parents who see their life savings dwindling away, searching for outside scholarships is often something that slips past graduate school applicants. This is a mistake, as there are a variety of unique scholarships, fellowships, and writing competitions available for graduate students of all stripes. Most top grad programs feature a list of such resources on their websites and there are also both free and pay sites that collate these opportunities.
Research every financial aid opportunity at every school of interest
Believe it or not, most applicants do not perform a thorough search of each scholarship and fellowship offered at the schools to which they are applying. The reason this is so important is that students may actually qualify for something they are not even aware of. Whether it is something fairly well known like Teach For America arrangements or something more unique, students need to perform this simple step of due diligence.
Understand the true cost of the degree
Pay very close attention to not only current tuition, but also the inflation rate at that school. Some universities are seeing tuition go up more rapidly than others, so it makes sense to project the cost for the following year (or years) as well as looking at the tuition and cost for the first year.